Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG), which has pioneered the use of organic, locally grown ingredients in fast food, expects to double its use of locally grown produce this year.
The company was on the SB20 for several years – the World’s Top Sustainable Stocks – produced by SustainableBusiness.com, for its leadership in sourcing organically raised beef, chicken, pork, beans, and vegetables. It is the only national chain with a significant commitment to serving locally grown produce.
Chipotle has been working with farmers to transition to sustainable agriculture; as more supplies become available, they are able to increase the percentage of organic products in their restaurants.
Chipotle, which has 1,100 restaurants nationwide, has been serving locally, organically grown produce in its restaurants since 2008. It says it will use over 10 million pounds of fruits and vegetables grown within 350 miles of the restaurants where it will be served – raising the bar from its goal of 5 million pounds in 2010.
"While sourcing produce locally can be difficult – particularly in regions with short growing seasons – we continue to find like-minded suppliers to allow us to serve this better food," says Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle.
For many regions across the country, locally grown produce is available for a relatively short time (June through October), while in other regions like California, the growing season is considerably longer, even year-round.
According to Michael Pollan, who is known for authoring books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma, the average food item in America travels 1,500 miles from farm to table – a practice that undermines regional food security and causes tremendous greenhouse gas emissions associated with shipping.
Chipotle says it works with family owned farms whenever possible to provide bell peppers, jalapenos, oregano, red onions and romaine lettuce for its restaurants. In California, the company also sources locally grown lemons, cilantro and avocados, and it gets tomatoes locally in California and Florida.
Beyond its use of local produce, most of the meat Chipotle serves is organic (100% chicken and pork; 60% beef); 40% of beans, and all of its cheese and sour cream are made with milk from cows that are never given the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone).
Additionally, Chipotle is rapidly increasing the percentage of pasture-raised dairy, and expects that all of its dairy will reach this standard within a year. Chipotle calls its commitment to better ingredients from more sustainable sources "Food with Integrity."
Although finding sustainable sources for food in each region can be difficult, Ellis says, "The more consumers understand the benefits of eating food from more sustainable sources, the more they’re going to expect it from everyone."