The next time you eat a burrito, it might come wrapped up in a poem or a little philosophy from a Harvard professor. Starting today, Chipotle will be rolling out a new line of oddly literary packaging—bags and cups printed with new writing both from authors you might find in the New Yorker as well as comedians like Sarah Silverman.
The project was the brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer, who happened to eat lunch in a Chipotle restaurant one day by himself, and started wishing he had something to read. He knew people at the company—who'd reached out after Foer wrote Eating Animals, a book about factory farming—and decided to suggest his idea: What if Chipotle’s packaging was more like a book or a magazine?
"That’s how it started—it wasn’t actually our idea," says Mark Crumpacker, the company’s chief marketing officer. "It was really because Jonathan was bored one day at Chiptole."
Each story is very short, limited not by the amount of time someone might have to read during lunch but by the physical space on a package. "There’s only so much you can fit on a cup," Crumpacker says.
The results were sort of brilliant, and each completely different. From Foer, there’s a "Two-Minute Personality Test" that asks random questions: "Is it any way cruel to give a dog a name? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone?"
Steven Pinker, the psychologist, writes about how the world is getting better—fewer wars, less violence, more democracy, more health—in a two-minute case for optimism. "We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one," he writes.
These might not be the thoughts that people typically entertain in a fast food restaurant, and that's the point. "We’ve never used our packaging in the traditional sense that fast food uses them, to promote things like Coca-Cola," Crumpacker says. "This takes people out of their daily routine a little bit, maybe gets them to think about their world in a different way."
Instead of limiting the topics to food or sustainability, both themes the company has focused on in the past, and ultimately decided to let authors write about whatever they wanted. "They’re going to be limited enough by the format such that we didn’t need to further limit them by the subject matter. And so they came up with some strikingly different things," Crumpacker says.
If customers like the new packaging, the company plans to roll out another lineup of writing soon. The soda cup may be the next literary form.