Qdoba vs Chipotle: The Battle of Taste vs Brand

For better or for worse, arguments over major burrito chains can make or break friendships these days. (For better, for sure.) So today is one of those days where I really love having a blog; I get to vent to my fullest and nobody can stop me. Plenty of people will disagree with me, but maybe some will agree. Either way, I don’t really care. I just want to explain my reasoning without being interrupted for once.

Bite into Qdoba burrito >> Fall in love >>  Photograph for the word. I've been there.

Bite into Qdoba burrito >> Fall in love >> Photograph for the world. I’ve been there.

I have been a Qdoba fan since the moment it entered my life. I can’t remember the exact day, or month, or year, probably because I blacked out from pure bliss after my first bite. Maybe it was in college? No, scratch that. Some of my best friendships in college were initiated and/or solidified because of our pre-existing affinity for the at-the-time-still-growing-chain.

Brand loyalty does not come easily to me. There are only two brands that I can think of to which I’ve remained loyal for years: Qdoba and Jeep. (Those who know me are probably wondering “what about Adidas and Lancome?!” but the truth is my shoe-drobe and my beauty routine have both been forced to recognize that other products are better suited to my needs — read foot shape and skin tone). Still, Qdoba’s got me, and it’s got me good.

A moment for full disclosure: Since the beginning of August this year, I’ve had the pleasure to work on a PR team whose client list includes the NCBA. Whatever my viewpoints are about beef (they are very, very  good), this post in no way reflects those views of my client or my employer.

Now, if you’ve been following the food news lately, you can probably put two together… This post is about to become a major rant against Chipotle lovers. Ready? … Set?… GO!

For YEARS I’ve put up with nonsensical blabbering and frankly downright aggressive questioning from Chipotle lovers about how I can possibly love Qdoba more. STOP IT.

I love Qdoba, plain and simple. You really want to know why? Because they don’t talk at me. They don’t try to convince me to love them. They don’t try to rebrand themselves as a cultural movement or position themselves as something they’re not. They let their food speak for them, and it works. It freaking WORKS.

Have you ever even had Qdoba? Have you tried a blind taste test to compare it to Chipotle? Well I have. Hands down I loved Qdoba more. And so did these authentic Mexican-food chefs when they did one too. I’m not even going to get into the consistently awful customer service I’ve experienced on the rare occasion that I have settled for Chipotle. This is all about the food.

OK, wait, no it’s not. It’s about more than that. Even if Chipotle’s food was on par with Qdoba (which it’s not), I still wouldn’t be a fan. Why? Because I don’t like being lied to and manipulated. (Let the accusations of irony and hypocrisy begin!)

Chipotle is obviously positioning itself as an all-natural, anti-mass-farming entity to set apart its brand. If they were honest about their real standings though — honest meaning upfront — they might actually have a shot getting me to believe them.

But take a look at this article from Mother Jones and see for yourself how all you Chipotle lovers have been so manipulated by your irreproachable burrito czar:

CLAIM / IMPLICATION

REALITY

Chipotle’s meat and products are natural. “Natural” is not defined the USDA. (“Organic” is.)
Chipotle doesn’t support or use Genetically Modified Organisms Most of Chipotle’s products use GMOs, including all of their soybean oil and corn products. One or both of these can be found in their chicken, steak, fajita veggies, rice, tortilla chips and tortillas. Even their protein sources may be fed GMOs.
Chipotle sources “naturally raised meat” from producers who use big, open, grassy fields. The animals Chipotle uses come from producers who are not required to give their pigs and cows access to the outdoors. Some are relegated to as little as 5 to 14 sq. ft. in their hoop buildings. Some cows finish eating in feedlots, which means they are not 100% grass-fed.
Chipotle relies on locally sourced foods. The only locally sourced ingredients that Chipotle uses – and mixes in with non-local – are onions, avocados, peppers, tomatoes, jalapeños and cilantro. They do not have year-round access to local produce.
Chipotle is against the use of antibiotics in meat production. The company is considering allowing animals that have been treated with antibiotics to return to the general supply. Right now 80% of Chipotle beef is raised without antibiotics or growth hormones due to supply shortages.
Chipotle uses organic ingredients. Only Chipotle’s beans, oregano, avocado and cilantro are USDA-certified organic. Some ingredients (especially the beans) may not even be 100% organic.

So, my love for Qdoba is still solidly about its taste. It’s not about how “good” it is as a company, or how healthy the ingredients are. I load those bad boys up with sour cream, queso and guac anyway. (They are comfort food and treats, not an every day pleasure)

The entire Qdoba Story is centered on fresh ingredients, full flavors and the mealtime experience. That’s what I connect with when it comes to food. Sure, sustainability is important to me. But organic or not, there are ways to find and support sustainable farming. Pitting “all natural”, “all organic” or “more sustainable” against flavorful and fresh doesn’t make any sense to me. They are not mutually exclusive… except in Chipotle’s case. And even then, they’re not as fully the former as they’d have you believe.

So next time you think it’s your new mission in life to convince me why Chipotle is “so much better” than Qdoba, please stop. Reassess your life. If you are really about to just spew a bunch of their corporate messages at me, then have fun with that breathing exercise. And thanks for the burrito craving; you can find me at the nearest Qdoba when you’re done.

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6 comments

  1. Christy · · Reply

    First of all, I don’t think anyone assumes the word “natural” means “organic”. Saying “natural” could mean anything because it is unregulated by the USDA is like saying “ingredient” means anything. In the food industry, “natural” means, for all intents and purposes, minimally processed, i.e. like what you would find in nature OR make yourself from whole ingredients. On that note, if you read Qdoba’s ingredients list, their food is FULL of synthethic chemicals and preservatives, so it is far from “fresh” as it claims to be. Chipotle’s ingredients list is comprised of WHOLE foods. So by the standards of me, and most critical thinkers, that would classify their food is “natural”.

    Next, if you read the article that you linked to, you would find it states that although Chipotle’s meat producers are not REQUIRED to pasture the animals, most of the farmers do anyway. Which does not contradict the claim Chipotle makes. I will also point out that Chipotle has never claimed their meat is 100% grass-fed, so that doesn’t even matter in the scope of your complaint. And regarding the antibiotics, regardless of what speculation there is about what Chipotle may or may not do, CURRENTLY 80% of their meat is free of antibiotics which is massively impressive, in my opinion.

    As far as the organic and locally grown ingredients….Chipotle did not make the claim that 100% of their ingredients are organic or locally grown, just that they use organic and locally grown ingredients. And they do. The organic intiative is still gaining momentum and Chipotle is a national chain – personally I don’t expect them to be able to source 100% of their ingredients organic. Not to mention, not all ingredients can be available year-round from local sources, nor do I think the local supply would be great enough to be Chipotle’s only source of the ingredient. Once again, Chipotle is a national chain and I don’t think customers would be happy if they couldn’t have their guacamole in some cities or only during certain times of the year. However, using local and organic products when possible makes a HUGE difference, especially considering the scope of Chipotle’s business.

    In summary, the article you linked to definitively proved Chipotle isn’t a dishonest company because the source of all statistics cited were…Chipotle themselves! And all of their statements supported the claims they made – not the claims you were assuming they were making, but the claims they actually made.

    All in all, I would rather support a company that truly uses natural ingredients, and uses responsibly sourced ingredients when possible, than a company that uses ingredients on par with the rest of the fast food industry (and falsely claims their preservative laden ingredients to be “fresh!”). I will eat at Chipotle knowing there is a chance my food is organic and local, instead of eating at Qdoba and KNOWING it isn’t even natural, let alone organic or local. And I will be thankful that there is one less person in line when I go.

    1. Thanks for you comments, Christy! I won’t engage in an argument, since I indicated in the very first paragraph that I know (and expect) there are people who disagree with me… but I still appreciate your passion on the subject. Good luck!

  2. Colonel Dick · · Reply

    Gotta love the idiot above.. 1. Natural, by definition of a dictionary means; existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind…. So minimally processed wouldn’t apply here. Additionally, if you think organic foods are good for the world, keep this in mind; If the world grew organic foods, it would take every inch of land on the planet to sustain the population. So you can either Die, Allow others to Die, or eat the food.

  3. Burritolikethesun · · Reply

    I get the vegetarian burrito. I always add the fajita veggies. At Qdoba, before the price change, this was a massive upcharge. Now Qdoba has changed its pricing scheme. You don’t pay for “extras” (mostly meaning quacamole, which already came on the vegetarian), but the price has shot up over a dollar. The vegetarian burrito is now the same price as the chicken burrito (wtf?). This literally makes no logical sense. My burrito ends up being $8.31 at Qdoba now.

    At Chipolte, they never have upcharged for fajita veggies (or really anything else but meat), and the vegetarian is priced in a way that the quacamole is treated like meat. I pay $6.84 at the local Chipolte.

    Your “brand” sucks. I also don’t buy that the taste is any different–there is not a significant deviation more than visit-to-visit variance. Qdoba is using clever marketing to wring more money out of people, and it continues to employ a menu scheme that doesn’t make sense. Chipolte has a simple, straightfoward menu that chargers fairly for all order permutations.

  4. And by local chipotle means farmers in the USA. Cus you know, every fast food place can’t have a farm in its back room.

  5. I’m so glad I found this. I’ve been looking for a burrito option that doesn’t engage in pseudoscience and the big organic anti GMO nonsense. I don’t like being propagandized when choosing lunch and considering GMO is safe, healthy and the only tool we have to increase starvation and increase food security. Qdoba is the spot.

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