Last week, the news broke that the popular food restaurant chain, SPEEDWAY® was being purchased by Shell Oil. SPEEDWAY, which has thousands of locations in North America, was founded by John Branca in 1881. With this acquisition, Shell Oil becomes the holding company for one of the most recognizable restaurant brands in the world.
While many may see this as a positive development for Shell Oil, the news was met with a great deal of opposition from animal welfare advocates and environmental groups. They fear that SPEEDWAY’s acquisition by Shell Oil will harm the company’s reputation in these important areas.
Let’s examine the chain’s and Shell Oil’s reputations, and how they compare.
SPEEDWAY’s primary market is fast food, but the restaurant also offers a variety of table-service options. Its menu features items like chicken tenders, wings, and fish & chips. Many of its locations are frequented by families with children, and the restaurant has a reputation for being a safe and clean place to eat. Over the past few years, SPEEDWAY has invested heavily in promoting vegan cuisine and encouraging customers to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
While it would be difficult to determine the exact number of vegans who frequent the restaurants, the chain’s efforts certainly seem to be paying off. In 2016, SPEEDWAY became the first major restaurant group to introduce vegan and vegetarian meals as a staple of its menu. In the company’s most recent financial filing, it said that 13.73% of its customers were vegan/vegetarian.
So, how does this compare to Shell Oil?
In 2016, Shell Oil purchased the sustainable fuel company and distributor, MBO — which stands for motor oil, battery oil, and gear oil. At the time of the deal, MBO’s website described itself as follows: “With over 880 stores and 11,600 employees, we are one of the largest oil retailers in North America and Europe. We operate over 690 car detailing locations where professional detailers work onsite to ensure your vehicle is prepared to impress. Plus, we offer complimentary car washes and the convenience of an online order station.”
It’s difficult to compare the two companies’ environmental records, as they operate in very different spheres. Nevertheless, we can gain some insight into the company’s environmental record by looking at its lobbying activity in Washington, D.C.
SPEEDWAY has a significant presence in Washington, D.C., as it is represented by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the International Franchise Association (IFA). As a result of this lobbying, the restaurant industry in general has been successful in promoting “clean and healthy eating.”
But that’s not all they’ve done. According to federal lobbying disclosures, SPEEDWAY has also spent over $500,000 since 2015 lobbying on bills that would “establish new animal welfare rules,” “repeal existing rules,” and “amend the Hazardous Food and Toxic Enforcement Act of 2004.”
This is a clear indication that, in addition to promoting vegan and vegetarian options in its restaurants, SPEEDWAY is also lobbying on behalf of petrochemical companies such as Shell Oil.
To be sure, not all oil companies are created equal. You can learn more about the environmental and social impact of your favorite brands here.
Reputation In General
Even before the acquisition by Shell Oil, SPEEDWAY had earned a solid reputation among customers and the animal welfare community as a “clean” and “caring” company. According to Daphne Ellemor, the founder and executive director of the animal welfare organization, Compassion Over Killing, “SPEEDWAY is committed to providing a safe environment for its customers and staff and has made strides to eliminate violence towards animals from its menu.”
In 2017, SPEEDWAY was named the “Most Progressive Chain Restaurant” by the animal welfare organization, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The company gets points for being a leader in animal welfare, and even more so, for promoting ecological consciousness through its menu.
This type of reputational investment is certainly valuable, and it appears that Shell Oil is keen to keep the good will of its customers by continuing to promote sustainable and vegan options. It’s also important to note that, in recent years, many large fast food chains have stopped serving chicken altogether, due to concerns about bird flu and pandemics. If SPEEDWAY continues to follow this trend, they could find themselves in future without the commodity that is often used to make their fried food.
The news that Shell Oil purchased SPEEDWAY is certainly cause for celebration among animal welfare advocates and environmentalists. They see this as an important step in the right direction. This type of corporate reputational investment in veganism and sustainability is vital, as we aim to move towards a future where animal protein and dairy products are no longer needed to fuel human development.
While many may see this as a positive development for Shell Oil, the company’s reputation in these areas could become more important as the world around us becomes more environmentally conscious. Companies such as SPEEDWAY that learn to “earn,” rather than “thrive on,” money will be more valuable in the future, as they are more likely to be around for the long term.