Chipotle goes the documentary route with video campaign shot by Errol Morris

'Behind the Foil' comes more than three years after foodborne illness outbreaks

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Image from Chipotle's Behind the Foil campaign
Image from Chipotle's Behind the Foil campaign Credit: Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill is lifting the lid on its processes, or in its case, going "Behind the Foil."

That's the name of the restaurant chain's newest campaign, which includes documentary-style commercials in which director Errol Morris asks questions of restaurant staffers as they show off their culinary skills.

Chipotle, fresh off a strong quarterly report and the opening of its 2,500th restaurant, is trying to keep its renewed momentum going by reminding people how it prepares its food. After foodborne illness outbreaks rocked the chain beginning in 2015, Chipotle overhauled its food preparation techniques and brought in new leadership. Now, it's time for the restaurant workers and even the farmers who do business with Chipotle to strut their stuff. "Behind the Foil" includes digital and TV spots shot by Morris, the director of films including "The Fog of War" and "The Thin Blue Line."

Chipotle is calling "Behind the Foil" the most intimate look yet into the company's operations. It's the next wave of the chain's "For Real" push that began in September by showcasing its ingredients. The new work is being overseen by CMO Chris Brandt, who joined Chipotle in 2018, following his former Taco Bell boss Brian Niccol, who became Chipotle's CEO last year. Venables Bell and Partners is the agency on the project.

Videos released Monday feature workers including Bre (above) and Krista (below), speaking with Morris as they do some work in the kitchen.

"I've seen firsthand the real ingredients and culinary skills that Chipotle employees possess and I'm officially a believer," Morris said in a statement.

Along with showing Chipotle's restaurant employees, the company plans to show off farmers it works with. The premise bears some resemblance to the work Papa John's is doing to restore its image. The struggling pizza chain has been featuring its franchisees and other workers in its marketing in recent months.

Chipotle also ran a two-hour live feed on its Facebook page from the kitchen of an Irvine, California restaurant, so fans could watch employees chop peppers and onions, stir the ingredients for pico de gallo, grill chicken, and so on. And to get more mainstream viewers, the marketing effort was unveiled during a morning segment on "The Today Show" on Monday.

The campaign follows Chipotle's upbeat report last week, which included a better-than-expected 6.1 percent increase in fourth-quarter same-store sales, aided by price increases and a 2 percent increase in transactions. Its plans for 2019 include marketing and promotional spending of about 3 percent of sales, just above 2.9 percent spent in 2018. It is also adding a few dozen locations with drive-up pickup lanes, dubbed Chiptolanes. It already has in-store shelves for pickup in about 1,000 restaurants, which it plans to have in all restaurants by mid-2019. Chipotle recently opened its 2,500th location, in Concord, California, and is on track to open 140 to 155 restaurants in all in 2019.

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