The Halloween “boorito” is a wonderful Chipotle tradition. Each year, Chipotle celebrates Oct. 31 by rewarding customers who show up in costume with ultra-cheap burritos. Back in its early days, the boorito came for free, but you had to dress as a burrito. (An excellent demonstration of how aspirational boorito-getters accomplished this is available on YouTube.) In the years since, the boorito’s price has climbed—most recently to $3—but Chipotle has given consumers free rein on what get-up they wear. Up to $1 million of the proceeds get donated to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, Chipotle’s nonprofit to promote sustainable food and farming.
The boorito was fun and festive. The boorito was cheap and charitable. The boorito was an all-around Chipotle win. Alas, this year, Chipotle is ruining it.
“This Halloween from 5 p.m. to close, spook us by adding something unnecessary to your costume and score a $3 burrito,” reads the text on Chipotle’s webpage announcing the promotion. Why “something unnecessary”? Because the 2015 boorito event has a mission, and that mission is to campaign against “spooky (and unncessary) additives in typical fast food.” Featured on the list, directly under “spooky and unnecessary,” are soy lecithin (an emulsifier) and propylene glycol (a humectant). These additives have long, scary-sounding chemical names, but they’re also recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as quite safe.
“We’ve never said these additives and preservatives aren’t safe,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold responds in an email when I suggest that the boorito branding might be a bit misleading. “They simply aren’t necessary. Just because you can add something to food doesn’t mean that you need to.” He notes that Chipotle is one among many food companies eliminating or cutting back on additives and preservatives. Others making the shift: Panera, Nestle, Hershey, Kraft—even Taco Bell.
These are fair points, particularly the last. As fast-casual chains like Chipotle have overtaken fast-food competitors, consumers have broadly shifted their expectations for quick-service orders. Natural is in; processed is out. At the same time, the “we’ve never said they aren’t safe” line feels a little thin for a company that is prominently painting additives as “unneces-scary” and has even created a jokingly dystopic video to drive home this point. Sure, they’re not outright calling additives unsafe and bad. But glance at the branding for all of five seconds and you’ll have few doubts where additives stand on Chipotle’s “food with integrity” ranking. Chipotle has rationalized its decision to drop GMOs from food in the same way, describing its decision to capitalize on pseudoscientific consumer fears as taking a “cautious approach.”
The bigger sin of Chipotle’s “unneces-scary” campaign though—in addition to several terrible puns—is that it is fundamentally antithetical to the spirit of the boorito. The boorito may have supported nonprofit work on healthy and sustainable food, but for the customers who frequented Chipotle on Halloween, it was never about that. The boorito was a silly pit-stop you made with friends during a night of drinking and partying. It was about getting a burrito you could get any other day, but that seemed so much more awesome because it cost less than half as much. It was about a company embracing Halloween in all its glee and revelry without asking for anything in return, other than that you join in on the fun.
The simple promise of all that is what made the boorito great. The added moral weight of an anti-additives campaign is what will ruin it. Maybe Chipotle should take its own advice, and leave what’s unnecessary behind.