What to Learn (or Borrow) From the Launch of Chipotle’s Latest DTC Site

The fast casual brand’s venture into apparel offers a case study in easy brand enhancement.

Over the past few weeks, everyone’s favorite fast-casual brand (sorry, Panera heads) has been hard at work. In June, Chipotle announced that it would help its suppliers whose businesses had been affected by the pandemic with a DTC site that lets customers buy food directly from the farms that source its food. Last month, it was reported that the company would be giving both keto fans and health nuts a boost by testing cauliflower rice. Then, one week later, it announced the launch of a digital only item—quesadillas—to help push sales as food orders move online. 

That’s a busy summer, especially in a season where many companies are curbing new initiatives and laying low. This week, however, Chipotle struck again—this time with a DTC site to sell company-themed apparel. Before the eye-rolling begins, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Szechuan Sauce attention grab. Chipotle Goods is actually a very savvy attention grab, one that could be instructive for DTC companies looking for a way to stand out. 

And so, with no extra guac, here are four elements of the Chipotle Goods concept that could fit nicely in a brand playbook. 

Making use of refuse

Plenty of other brands in Chipotle’s general space have been doing apparel launches that dovetail with their image. (Special-edition KFC Crocs, anyone?) But with consumers increasingly focused on the relative positive that a company brings into the world, Chipotle Goods is unique. By selling responsibly-sourced apparel, Chipotle is broadcasting its values in a way that makes a Whopper-scent air freshener seem a little petty. (It hardly matters that “responsibly sourced” is a term that’s impossible to actually define.)

Following the announced launch of Chipotle Goods, the headlines centered on three items in particular: A t-shirt, a sweater, and reusable tote bag, all of which are dyed with upcycled pits from the 300 million avocados that Chipotle uses in its guacamole. Not only is this a clever, virtuous gambit, it's also one that gives brand fans a way to further connect. 

"We know people are looking to celebrate their passion for Chipotle, and we set out to create a line of products with the same thoughtfulness, care, and attention to detail that we use in our kitchens," Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt said Monday. "With Chipotle Goods, our fans can get quality items that support sustainable agriculture and represent our mission of cultivating a better world."

Being both inclusive and personalized

Despite its framing across media, Chipotle Goods is more than just avocado-dyed gear. Their line-up also features gender-neutral apparel, including onesies for parents, leggings for loungers, chips and guac slides, and customizable t-shirts that let shoppers hype the specific items they put in their burrito bowls. 

All of this speaks to a company that knows its own customer base well. From seeing this catalogue, it's easy to grasp that Chipotle fans follow fashion trends, appreciate puns, are upwardly mobile, and are not afraid of kitsch. “There’s a $40 Chipotle Avocado Camisole, a 'rice' colored spaghetti-strap blouse designed with tiny avocados; a $75 'black bean' colored jean jacket with lining featuring little peppers; and a muslin swaddle blanket with the inscription, 'Sleep tight little burrito,'" NRN reported. And, you can put all of these in a shiny silver weekender duffel bag that resembles a wrapped-up burrito.

Building strategic loyalty 

Plenty of companies have put together clever apparel lines that speak to the importance of internet virality and brand loyalty. And everyone is probably familiar with gimmicks like the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder-scented candles, one of the many ridiculous items in recent years to come online, create awe, confusion, and wonder, and then sell out quickly.

A steadier element of this kind of loyalty building comes baked into Chipotle Goods. Before bringing the initiative to the public, Chipotle first allowed members of the company’s rewards program to have access to the shop.

For brand super-fans who previously might have been left in the digital dust, Chipotle Goods offered a sense of belonging and exclusivity.

Keeping it limited for good 

Perhaps the biggest and most important differentiator between Chipotle Goods and many other big-brand initiatives is that Chipotle isn’t keeping the money. According to the company, all profits will be donated to organizations that focus on making fashion or farming more sustainable. In a time when consumers are looking for a way to plug themselves into positive change, this is an easy way to generate goodwill. 

Similarly, the apparel is part of a limited-time run. Unlike other brand merch stores, Chipotle Goods isn’t a new, additional revenue stream and doesn’t speak to the company’s ambition to become a lifestyle brand, in addition to a company that slings burritos. Sometimes, that kind of strategy pays for itself.