Industry News | August 13, 2010

At Lime Fresh, Only the Most Humane Meat Will Do

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Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a fast-casual chain with six units in South Florida, announced that all of the meat it serves at its stores has been Certified Humane by Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), a certification and labeling nonprofit.

The certification, says Lime Fresh founder and CEO John Kunkel, gives the chain a special distinction.

“We are literally the only chain restaurant in the entire United States to offer only 100 percent Certified Humane meats at this point,” Kunkel says.

Indeed, all of the ground beef, steak, and chicken served at Lime Fresh meet the standards of HFAC, standards that include raising the animal without antibiotics or hormones, and in sufficient space that allows the animal to engage in natural behaviors.

Every step in the meat process is inspected for certification, Kunkel says, including the farm, the slaughterhouse, the distributor, and, finally, the restaurant.

HFAC is the only certification program endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Humane Society of the United States also endorses it.

Kunkel says that carrying 100 percent Certified Humane meats is the “right thing to do,” but that it also brings a number of benefits to the restaurants. For starters, he says, Certified Humane meat tastes better.

“When you stress an animal out, it basically ups the pH in the beef, and you end up with a very different tasting beef than what was intended,” he says.

There’s also the fact that Lime Fresh managed to produce a larger yield from its Certified Humane meats—something the chain did not expect, even after it went all in with the meats.

“The biggest shock that we got and the reason we were able to keep our cost of goods almost the same is because these products are not chock full of [artificial additives],” Kunkel says. “We got almost double the yield out of the poultry and beef products.”

When it made the move to use only Certified Humane meats, Kunkel says, the company insisted that it would not raise any of its prices. And though the cost of the meat did go up, the increased yield from supply—as well as a little bargaining with other vendors—helped maintain price points.

“We basically took it upon ourselves to go after every other vendor that we could to really manage our in-store operations, and we were able to attack other areas of our business, whether it be paper or chemicals or smaller-set items,” he says.

As a six-store system, using 100 percent Certified Humane meat is not all that difficult a task, Kunkel says. But, he says, it’s not a difficult task for chains like Chipotle, either, if they only commit 100 percent on the initiative.

“There is plenty of beef supply out there for Chipotle or any other large chain to do this 100 percent, but it is not cost-affective,” he says. “When you have a public company, they are choosing not to make those decisions based on the bottom line.”

But if the industry moved toward Certified Humane meat in big numbers, Kunkel says big change could come from it.

“All it takes for me to convert more and more farmers out there is for somebody like a Chipotle or a large restaurant chain to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is what we’re buying,’ those farmers know that it’s worth it,” he says.

“For whatever reason you do it, whether it’s taste, whether it’s consumer demand, or whether it’s your person beliefs, I think that it is a trend that’s not going away.”

By Sam Oches