Documentarian Morgan Spurlock is once again taking on the fast food industry, but now with his own restaurant venture. This time around, instead of burgers and fries, the battleground is chicken—the most consumed meat in the world.
The long-awaited sequel to his Oscar-nominated film “Super Size Me” will roll out in theaters nationwide and on-demand services like iTunes and Amazon on Friday, September 13. “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” follows Spurlock on a journey to open his own chicken fast-food restaurant, from raising chickens to scouting out locations for brick-and-mortars. Along the way, Spurlock exposes the truth about Big Poultry's monopoly of the multibillion-dollar chicken industry.
True to the film, Spurlock plans on launching a chain of permanent “Holy Chicken!” restaurants around the country with the goal of standing out from the rest of the industry by being honest about how its food is grown and sold, down to the marketing spin. He says he already has a commitment from investors for a brick-and-mortar location in Washington D.C., but would not specify numbers. To start out, Spurlock opened a pop-up “Holy Chicken!” in New York City on September 11. The restaurant is open from 11 am to 5 pm daily and will remain open until September 22. Visitors can purchase a crispy chicken sandwich, spicy or not, for $9.75, plus extra for sides and a drink.
Another key objective is to support struggling farmers in the U.S. The restaurant's chicken is sourced from small chicken farmers and the rest is brought in from local producers. All customer tips are donated to what Spurlock calls a “Chicken Defense Fund” which will help support small farmers in their lawsuits against giant chicken corporations and go towards creating more education around the issue. When the permanent restaurants debut, Spurlock says they will function similarly.
“I want it to be a center for food advocacy,” he says, sitting down with Ad Age at one of the booths of his pop-up at 18 West 23 St. in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. “We’ll make you see things a little differently. Through honesty will come a different kind of conversation.”
Small chicken farmers are handed a heavy burden. Four of the largest chicken producers, including Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, control more than half of the chicken market, and 97 percent of chicken farmers in the U.S. work under a giant corporation, according to the USDA. Some are even blackballed for speaking out against Big Poultry. That’s what happened to Zack Buttram, whose family’s farm is featured in the documentary. Buttram, 32, says his Alabama farm hasn’t brought in revenue for three years because it was blackballed by large corporations. In the meantime, the insurance on his farm, which totals more than $20,000 a year, continues to pile up.
“Our goal for this is to take this into a nationwide chain so that other farmers who have been cut off by Big Poultry have an opportunity to come back,” says Buttram.
The entire pop-up takes jabs at the restaurant industry and its marketing. Cartoon chickens line the walls, a chicken mascot dances outside and tongue-in-cheek signs call out health facts and ways restaurants try to manipulate people. A sign compares the real chicken sandwich the restaurant sells you to the one the marketing department has for a photo shoot. Another sign says the green paint on the walls creates a “healthy” atmosphere. A drawing on the ground where people line up to order shows just how little “free-range” chickens experience. Spurlock worked with advertising agency Humanaut on the pop-up.
“I’m a real believer that if you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen,” says Spurlock.
The premiere of “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was originally slated for two years ago but, with the Me Too movement gathering momentum, Spurlock stepped down from his production company Warrior Poets after confessing on Twitter of his past sexual misconduct. Advertising folks might get a kick out of the number of executives who appear in the film. Spurlock sits down with CP+B Co-Founder Alex Bogusky to get his take on restaurant marketing strategy, and goes through the process himself with the Humanaut team.
Despite the delay, it’s a good time to move into the chicken conversation. From Burger King to Carl’s Jr., fast food restaurants are working on implementing meat-free substitutes and healthier alternatives for consumers. The documentary draws on this trend saying that, despite all the new promises, the food itself is not healthier. “Holy Chicken” has signs stating its sandwiches are more than 900 calories and are really a meal and a half. Just on Thursday, Chick-fil-A announced on its blog it has reached its goal to serve no antibiotics. Meanwhile, Popeyes is seeing demand outrace supply for its new chicken sandwiches.
Healthier options or not, the world, and especially the U.S., continues to eat a lot of chicken. In 2018, the average American ate a record of 93 pounds of chicken, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the pop-up, Spurlock snaps his fingers repetitively, demonstrating just how much chicken Americans eat. With every snap, he says, “There goes 300 chickens.” He adds: “Well, there’s a new chicken in town.”