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Timpa: Chipotle Vs. Modern Consumer Culture

Chipotle is not the first company to suffer from this new wave of consumers. They are merely the most recent victim. Streamlined by Generation Z, there is a growing disposition towards holding corporations accountable. 
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(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Chipotle’s reputation has taken a hit recently due to controversy surrounding its decreasing portion sizes.

With a CEO response that rings shockingly tone-deaf for a million-dollar company, the future of the Mexican fast-food chain giant looks grim.

Chipotle is not the first company to suffer from this new wave of consumers. They are merely the most recent victim. Streamlined by Generation Z, there is a growing disposition towards holding corporations accountable.

Raised by technology and alongside social media, Gen Z has been no stranger to criticism. Despite this, they continue to display their savvy towards consumerism and prove the power of connectedness.

This recent instance is an incredible case study of what not to do in this new landscape populated by more conscious consumers.

If corporations intend to stay afloat in today’s economy, they cannot continue to underestimate this new generation of buyers.

Chipotle Controversy 

Animosity towards Chipotle has been silently growing for a long time as consumers have become convinced of the chain’s shrinking portion sizes.

It wasn’t until May 2024 that this frustration evolved into an organized movement. It first gained traction due to MMA fighter turned food critic Keith Lee. Lee rated items at the company as low as 2/10. 

Dubbed the “Chipotle Walkout Method,” the trend involved would-be buyers walking out of Chipotle after reaching the register, refusing to pay full price for smaller portions.

In true TikTok fashion, things only spiraled out of control from here. Later, it developed once again into the “Chipotle Phone Method.” Consumers became convinced that by recording in the store, workers would be more inclined to give them larger portions. The company has denied the validity of this method.

Rather than acknowledging customer concerns, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol outright rejected the idea that portion sizes were shrinking.

“One of the things that I think is great about Chipotle is that if you … want a little more … [shrugs] and our guys, and women, give them a little more scoop,” Niccol said.

Because, yes, a disappointed shrug is a staple of the Chipotle experience.

Consumer Culture 

Social media users have quickly criticized the company for responding to the controversy.

As the new generation assumes the position of buyers, companies must make more informed decisions about targeting this audience.  Consumers have become much more aware of marketing tactics.

They demand higher quality and better service. Millennials are worse off financially than any previous generation, a record itching to be broken by the next generation.

Simply put, Gen Z doesn’t have the money to make rash buying decisions. A shriveling economy has forced them to become more conscious regarding their spending habits.

Gen Z has proven to be the pickiest generation of consumers, opting to inform their buying habits based on personal values and a company’s political stance.

For instance, Patagonia is a brand that has thrived due to its values and dedication to the environment.

New Business Landscape

Companies will struggle to endure this new landscape if they fail to adjust properly. They must make decisions informed by the tendencies of this new wave of consumers.

Worsening products, over time, have become a common method numerous companies employ to encourage repeat buying.

This has proven effective in the past due to the rise of consumerism. However, buyers are growing tired of this never-ending cycle of purchasing a product they know will soon degrade.

Consumers are becoming more conscious of the impact of their dollar and even more weary about spending it.

Shoppers are turning to online stores such as Temu and Shein despite their low quality and questionable values. Buyers feel justified in knowing it comes at a low price, a quality many businesses fail to meet.

Companies that have found success, like Olipop, do so by offering quality products at prices consumers feel are justified.

Lessons Learned 

This recent Chipotle fiasco marks the pinnacle of a new consumer culture and the need for businesses to learn how to adjust promptly.

These consumers are smarter, poorer and, most importantly, well-connected.

They understand what they are buying, have stronger values and have the ability to rally behind a specific cause.

Rampant consumerism is dying, and companies that used it to succeed will start to feel the squeeze. Chipotle cannot last in this generation if it intends to sacrifice quality and price. Nor can any other business that builds itself around the same model.

 

[email protected]

@timpa.chronicle

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About the Contributor
Matthew Timpa
Matthew Timpa, Opinion Writer
(he/him) Matthew is majoring in Marketing and minoring in Philosophy at the University of Utah, with a stressfully vague idea of what he wants to do career-wise. He's from Las Vegas, Nevada and enjoys playing volleyball, thrifting, and reading.

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