Consumers are increasingly asking restaurants to make changes to the way they do business via petition website Change.org, and burger chain In-N-Out is one of the latest chains to be targeted.
Los Angeles vegan Ari Solomon wants In-N-Out Burger to add a veggie burger to its menu, and he’s hoping a Change.org petition he recently posted will make it happen. More than 4,400 supporters had signed the petition as of midday Friday.
A second petition was also filed on Change.org, this time by L.A. resident Aaron Zober, asking In-N-Out to switch to grass-fed beef (320 supporters as of midday Friday). Both petitions cite In-N-Out’s recent decision to drop a meat supplier that had been charged with allegations of animal cruelty.
“In-N-Out did the right thing and said they would no longer buy from this supplier, but it’s the 21st Century, and I think it’s high time they offer a veggie burger option for customers who don’t want to eat animals, or just want a little diversity with an environmentally friendly, healthier option once in a while,” wrote Solomon in his petition.
Officials at the Irvine, Calif.-based In-N-Out said they were aware of both petitions, but had no comment because they had not had time to evaluate the requests.
In-N-Out’s simple menu of burgers, fries and shakes has changed very little since the first location opened in 1948.
The iconic burger chain is one of several restaurant companies targeted by Change.org petitions currently. Petitioners have asked Jamba Juice and Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using Styrofoam, and Domino’s Pizza to switch to pork that has not been raised in gestation crates, for example. One petitioner wants Sizzler to open a restaurant in Tasmania (signed by seven). Another wants to ban all restaurants from advertising on television (zero supporters).
Restaurant operators say such websites can be useful as a communicator of consumer sentiment, but petitions are not likely to influence business decisions.
Change.org, for example, claims as a victory Jamba Juice’s announcement to phase out the use of polystyrene from its 783-unit chain by the end of 2013 after a 10-year-old girl posted a petition earlier this year that was signed by more than 134,000 supporters. But Janice Duis, senior director of corporate communications for Emeryville, Calif.-based Jamba Juice, said the chain had decided back in 2009 to phase out the use of Styrofoam and seek a greener alternative, though the publicly held company hadn’t sent out press releases about it.
“The petition had little bearing on our decision, and no bearing on the timing,” Duis said. In fact, the chain had been the subject of Change.org petitions on the same topic twice the prior year, filed by different people, and Duis said the company had responded already to those efforts.
Still, Jamba Juice officials were so impressed by 10-year-old Mia Hansen’s latest plea on behalf of the environment that the company invited her to become an honorary junior brand ambassador. “We were pretty impressed that a 10-year-old had the tenacity, and desire and personal passion to take that on,” said Duis. “They wanted to send a message, and clearly we heard it.”
Other companies also said they were paying attention to the petitions.
In response to the anti-polystyrene effort at Dunkin’ Donuts, signed by more than 86,000 people, Christine Riley, director of corporate responsibility at Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., based in Canton, Mass., said, “We know that many people are concerned about the environmental impact of Dunkin’ Donuts foam cups. We are concerned too; in fact, it’s our number one sustainability priority."
Riley added that the company is continuing to “work hard to find a cup solution that works for our guests, franchisees and the environment.”
At Domino’s, however, the petition on pork and the use of gestation crates got little purchase despite its more than 151,000 supporters. Tim McIntyre, Domino’s vice president, communications, said the petition followed the announcement that company shareholders had voted against a resolution submitted by the Humane Society of the U.S. that would have moved the chain away from suppliers using gestation crates. The resolution was rejected by a vote of 80 percent to 4 percent, he said.
“Our perspective remains that the decision about how farmers raise their animals is best left up to the experts: veterinarians, agriculture university researchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the farmers themselves,” McIntyre said. “That perspective hasn’t changed.”
Duis of Jamba Juice noted that while such websites offer an opportunity for consumers to vent, it’s difficult for companies to know if those who sign such petitions are even their customers. “There was no way for me to know whether the people who signed the petitions even live in a state that has a Jamba Juice,” she said.
“It’s a vehicle for people to let organizations know what they feel strongly about,” she added. “But it might not be your consumer.”