What Was This Chipotle Exec Doing at the Annual Seafood Expo?

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Held in Boston this year, the 33rd Seafood Expo North America and Seafood Processing North America began on Sunday, and while the expo hosts a number of celebrity chefs and experts, there was one guest present earlier this week that some attendees took a particular interest in: Joshua Brau, director of the Food With Integrity program at Chipotle (NYSE:CMG).

According to Supermarket News, the Chipotle executive held an hour-and-a-half-long Putting the Food Back Into Seafood panel. There, those interested spoke candidly about the many issues facing the seafood industry, one of them being that seafood has become the “other” in the food world. Supermarket News reported Monday that Chipotle’s panel was more of a casual discussion rather than a formal panel, and most in attendance were in agreement that seafood is the one example of food that is often lumped into its own category.

This reality has been an important one for Chipotle to keep in mind. Brau said that the Denver-based company has been focusing on new concepts “that have very limited either fish bases or fish sauce or actual seafood options.” That means that as Chipotle slowly enters into the seafood waters, the restaurant has to understand how consumers respond to seafood and how it should be marketed to them.

Chipotle’s marketing is important to the chain, and it has made that especially clear this year. The company aggressively pushed its commercials on YouTube and a sponsored Hulu series called Farmed and Dangerous. The company has enjoyed significant media attention and consumer praise for its sourcing methods, which it highlighted in the commercials and Hulu series, and now its appearance at the Seafood Expo shows that it is ready to concentrate on seafood and how to properly educate its customers about where it comes from.

According to Supermarket News, Brau believes there is a disconnect between those who produce food and those who consume it — that’s what Chipotle wants to do away with, especially as it navigates the seafood industry.

Because retailers and producers are on opposite ends of the supply chain, many assume that they don’t have a lot of contact, but Chipotle has maintains that it works in communion with its farmers and suppliers, and it wants their work and sourcing processes to feel familiar to customers, too. That’s where Brau’s understanding of the seafood industry comes in. He needs to know how fish are sourced and how consumers react to the product so he can make sure his company can effectively appeal to its customers and educate them about what they’re eating.

Brau explained at the expo, per Supermarket News: “Because we are focused on buying the very best ingredients we can find and really contributing to solutions to all of the sort of food system-related issues that we are facing that our business can have an impact on, I think it’s really important to educate our customers about these issues. Not only because it’s important for them to understand what we’re doing, but we also believe that the more they know about these issues — whether it’s antibiotics or GMOs or animal welfare, the list goes on — we think they are more likely to choose Chipotle the more they know about these issues and the more they understand what we’re doing.”

So should Chipotle loyalists be keeping their eye out for a seafood option to soon pop up on the menu? That much is still unclear, but Brau’s appearance at the 33rd Seafood Expo this week certainly hints that Chipotle could be diving into the seafood waters sooner rather than later.

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