A Few Thoughts by John Nalivka: The coldest beer in town

“We serve the coldest beer in town.” This is a pretty common marketing slogan that most of us have seen numerous times in rural America. Does it have any legal ramifications? It probably doesn’t because most people likely have relatively low expectations about the claim other than to have a cold beer – maybe not the coldest beer in town. Besides, who is going to compare or even be able to compare for that matter. There may be some competitive angst over the claim, but I have never heard of any lawsuits over beer temperature.

However, marketing can easily move to the next level not only from the standpoint of legal issues with competitors but also in the case of the food industry, into the area of food safety. This is particularly true in today’s market environment whereby protocols such as “natural,” “organic,” “GMO-free,” and “locally sourced” have become standard fare in restaurants and supermarkets. Consumer expectations are now raised to whole new level. They not only expect a certain quality that goes along with these protocol, they also have higher expectations with regard to the safety of food that has been certified and labeled according to any of these protocol. In fact, one could probably make the case that even a label declaring a meat product from an animal that was “raised humanely” also creates an expectation of safe food for the consumer. Should it? You and I may not think so or know so, but some consumer does. Can we argue with expectations? Probably, but the argument will likely take place in a courtroom with whoever made the claim as the plaintiff!

Over the last few years, specific market claims have made Chipotle a very popular Mexican style chain restaurant. However, serious food safety issues at numerous Chipotle restaurants across the country over the past several months are challenging their business model and raising serious questions concerning food safety measures and the “fresh, locally sourced protocol” which has been the key to their success. This very successful marketing protocol has now challenged the restaurant to adjust their model to more adequately address food safety issues. While there is little doubt that Chipotle did not make any claims lightly, perception still becomes reality and there are economic consequences, both good and bad.