Chipotle Mexican Grill tries to offer a ‘better’ choice

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115454329811056.jpg’, ‘photo courtesy of Leum Roberts, Inc.’, ‘Now with some 500 restaurants nationwide, Chipotle is the largest restaurant seller of naturally-raised meats—selling approximately 15 million pounds a year, more than any other restaurant in America. It’s a revolution that is reshaping the nation’s food supply.’);

Chipotle’s standards on natural meats, poultry are raising the bar industry-wide

From press release

DENVER—Whether you’ve ever eaten their burritos, tacos, bols or salads, Chipotle Mexican Grill is changing the way you eat.

Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells set out to do just that when he opened his first burrito joint in Denver in 1993, using only the freshest, best ingredients possible in his burritos and tacos. As the restaurant company expanded, Ells, also a classically-trained chef, defined his vision as “Food With Integrity” and began seeking not just fresh food, but organic produce, and naturally-raised pork, chicken and beef to improve the quality of his burritos.

Now with some 500 restaurants nationwide, Chipotle is the largest restaurant seller of naturally-raised meats—selling approximately 15 million pounds a year, more than any other restaurant in America. It’s a revolution that is reshaping the nation’s food supply.

“What’s so cool is that we’ve helped create this new demand for naturally-raised meats and organic produce, and suppliers are motivated to improve the way they treat animals or raise crops so they can do business with us,” said Ells. “As a result, we’re not just making better burritos, we’re making a better food chain.”

To that end, Chipotle is working closely with renowned animal handling designer, author and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin, Ph.D., to make sure that its suppliers are up to standard.

“Chipotle’s standard with farms is extremely high, and it’s expensive to produce—no other restaurant company is doing that,” Grandin said. “They’re a pioneer on this.”

In an extremely price-driven business, it was seen by some as a risky move to raise prices when Chipotle introduced naturally-raised pork from Niman Ranch in 2002 in its carnitas. Ells decided his vision was worth it, and insisted on animals being raised on open pastures or in deeply-bedded pens, and given no antibiotics or added hormones. The result: carnitas made with better-tasting, naturally-raised pork are one of the most popular items on the menu, despite the slightly higher cost.

“There’s a significant contingent of people who are willing to put their money where their beliefs are,” said Bernard Rollin, Ph.D. an animal ethicist at Colorado State University who also works with Chipotle to educate the company on animal welfare issues and make recommendations on suppliers. “They don’t mind paying the extra buck if they know they’re getting better quality and helping small agriculture and doing their best for the environment.”

Chipotle also serves naturally-raised chicken and beef from animals that are fed a vegetarian diet and given no antibiotics or added hormones.

Experts like Grandin and Rollin say they’ve seen Chipotle’s animal welfare standards change the meat industry, particularly in the way animals are raised.

“What drives it is the market,” says Grandin. “When you have a Chipotle insisting on certain standards, when a big customer makes those demands, they change.”

The company is still looking for more resources to feed its growing appetite to have naturally raised meats in all of its stores. Currently, the supply only allows Chipotle to offer only natural meats in select markets.

The same is happening with Chipotle’s beans. The company has increased its use of organic black and pinto beans to more than 750,000 pounds per year—up from about 500,000 pounds last year—boosting U.S. organic bean crop to higher levels. The company plans to keep adding more organic beans as supply allows and hopes that it will be able to serve all organic beans—for now, they can only get their hands on enough to provide about 20 percent of the total.

“It’s hard to be patient and wait for there to be enough natural meats and organic beans for all our restaurants, but at the same time we are really starting to see some great strides,” said Ells. “Food With Integrity is becoming a reality.”

Instead of resisting the trend toward better, more expensive ingredients, the restaurant industry is applauding Ells’ vision for higher-quality food for everyone. Most recently, Chipotle has received the Golden Chain from Nation’s Restaurant News, Choice in Chains from Restaurants and Institutions and the Richard Mellman Concepts of Tomorrow award from Restaurant Hospitality magazine.

“To see Food With Integrity gaining momentum outside of Chipotle is exciting,” said Ells. “As a chef, to have an impact on the restaurant industry as a whole is something you dream of.”

About Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill offers a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bols (a burrito without the tortilla) and salads made from fresh, high-quality raw ingredients, prepared using classic cooking methods and served in a distinctive atmosphere. Through its vision of Food with Integrity, Chipotle is seeking better food not only from a variety of fresh ingredients, but ingredients that are sustainably grown and naturally raised with respect for the animals, the land, and the farmers who produce the food. Chipotle opened its first restaurant in 1993 and operates about 500 restaurants today. For more information, go to

Chipotle Mexican Grill is located at 751 S. Perryville Rd., Rockford, 397-8688.

From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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