Remember this year’s Chipotle Mexican Grill ad “Back to the Start” that captured hearts and minds around the issue of factory farming? As a serious burrito aficionado, there is something comforting about walking up to that big glass counter, steam rising seductively off the tortilla heater, and knowing that you are about to chow down on an overflowing mass filled with ingredients that the proprietor has made a concerted effort to source thoughtfully from farms with sustainable, humane practices.
While the company is transparent about the challenges and improvements needed to further their sustainability path, Chipotle still holds strong as the only national chain that touts an official local sourcing program. Putting even more money where their mouth is, Chipotle met their goal of doubling the amount of produce purchased from local farms.
Last year, Chipotle served 10 million pounds of vegetables produced “locally,” which they deem as within 350 miles of its 1,300 restaurants. That number is up 5 million pounds from 2009. This program has encompassed purchasing decisions for jalapenos, oregano, romaine lettuce, bell peppers and red onions from various states, tomatoes from Florida and California and lemons and avocados from California.
Founder, chairman and Co-CEO Steve Ells, tells Sustainable Business, "Supporting local farms continues to be important to us. Food that is locally grown is fresher and better tasting, and supports local farm communities around the country. Making local food accessible is an important part of our commitment to providing better food, from more sustainable sources. It is a key element in our effort to change the way people think about and eat fast food."
In 2011, 4.7 million pounds of romaine lettuce, 2 million pounds of red onions, 400,000 pounds of jalapenos, 300,000 pounds of cilantro and oregano, and 3.6 million pounds of bell peppers were sourced locally by Chipotle restaurants. Each of Chipotle’s restaurants pledges to purchase at minimum 35 percent of one bulk item from local farms when seasonally available, and more whenever possible.
No burrito is complete without its star player: beans. The chain hasn’t left out this crucial ingredient from its green initiatives. 40 percent of Chipotle’s beans are organically grown, which has kept 140,000 pounds of chemical pesticides out of the environment since 2005. They also partner with certified Food Alliance farms which are growing beans by utilizing conservation tilling practices that decrease soil erosion.
In addition to their efforts to source local and organic produce, Chipotle purchases meat that is 100 percent “naturally raised” according to their Food With Integrity standards. To Chipotle, this translates as the animals being hormone- and antibiotic-free, treated humanely, fed a vegetarian diet and allowed to act out their natural animal tendencies. 100 percent of sour cream and 65 percent of cheese served at Chipotle restaurants is produced from pasture-raised dairy cattle free of the growth hormone rBGH. As fellow 3P author Akhila Vijayaraghavan pointed out when Chipotle first announced their local sourcing benchmark, “They continue to be an excellent example of walking the talk.”
Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.