Chick-fil-A recently announced its intention to serve only chicken products from birds raised without antibiotics in all of its restaurants within five years. The company currently serves all white meat products processed from chickens that are conventionally raised, which means they may have received antibiotics at some point in their growing cycle. Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy described the move as just another step in the quick-service restaurant chain’s commitment to use only the highest-quality ingredients.
Cathy said, “Since our family business began 67 years ago, we have focused on our customers. It’s why we insist upon using the highest-quality ingredients. We want to continue that heritage, and offering antibiotic-free chicken is the next step.” The company reports that its consumer research indicates an interest in how food is made and where it is sourced, with particular interest in the use of antibiotics. 
Chick-fil-A has 1,800 restaurants across the U.S. and is the first quick-service restaurant chain to announce intentions to source only chicken raised without antibiotics. Chipotle Mexican Grill, with 1,500 restaurants in the fast-casual segment, reports that it began serving chicken raised without antibiotics in 2002.
Chipotle, marketing for the depressed
Chipotle has gotten a lot of mileage out of its videos and its new made-for-the-Web series depicting the supposed horrors of what it calls industrial agriculture. The message of this edgy campaign equates things like climate-controlled buildings, use of feed additives, and large scale operations with mechanization and dehumanization of workers. This campaign doesn’t resonate with me, but I can see how it might appeal to a certain demographic. You have to suspend disbelief in order to accept that the only suppliers for a 1,500 restaurant chain are “small farms” with pasture-raised animals. I wonder at what point a restaurant chain becomes “big” and when it does, is it then “bad”?
How will Chick-fil-A market?
Chick-fil-A’s famous “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign with its clever cows can best be described as “humorous,” but it has also been highly effective. The cows have been persuading consumers to not eat burgers and instead eat chicken, thus saving the cows for years. Are the cows now going to ask consumers to “Eat Mor Chikin raised without antibiotics?”
I’m not sure you can make “raised without antibiotics” part of a fun message. Chipotle’s video campaigns have been very dark and I find them disturbing. I suppose the message they want to convey is that Chipotle is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, but after watching them I come away hoping that the people who made the videos are getting some serious psychotherapy. 
I look forward to seeing if Chick-fil-A can come up with a positive message if they decide to include raised without antibiotics in their marketing. If Chick-fil-A does come up with a positive message, then it may be a step forward to getting raised without antibiotics into the mainstream. I hope that sound science and the marketplace decide the future of antibiotic usage in the U.S. poultry industry. But free markets can be a funny thing; who would have guessed that the future of antibiotic use in the U.S. broiler industry might be decided by an advertising campaign featuring some cartoonish black-and-white cows?