“We are changing the way the world thinks about and eats fast food,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and CEO of Chipotle. “There was a time when only the most demanding chefs were using this superior quality meat at the most expensive restaurants, but now we’re committed to making it available and affordable so everyone can eat better.” To do that, Chipotle spends more money on its food (as a percentage of its sales) than any other restaurant, regardless of category. The restaurant’s goal is to serve 100 percent naturally raised meat in all of its nearly 700 restaurants. Currently, all Chipotle restaurants serve naturally raised pork, while more than 80 percent serve naturally raised chicken, and about half serve naturally raised beef. It’s all part of a vision Ells calls Food With Integrity that began in 2000.
Often, it has been animal rights groups that have championed the improved treatment of animals raised for food. But, Chipotle is showing how success in the marketplace can drive positive change. Animal rights groups and food industry insiders are taking notice.
“Chipotle has done more to positively influence the landscape of rural America than any other company or government program,” says Bill Niman, the founder of Niman Ranch. “When Chipotle began working with Niman Ranch, there were fewer than 50 family-owned pig farms in the system. Today more than 500 family farms adhere to a humane, natural method, and that’s because Chipotle has provided those farmers a fair market for their pork.”
To accomplish its goal of serving all naturally raised meat, Chipotle is constantly looking for like-minded suppliers who share the company’s commitment to humane treatment of animals, or working with existing suppliers to change their protocols for the better.
“We have applauded Chipotle a number of times,” said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farms Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “That a company like Chipotle can have a successful business model while not supporting the abuses in the agribusiness industry is a positive sign. Companies ought to be rewarded for helping to reduce animal suffering.”
HSUS has worked to pass laws in Florida, Arizona and Oregon against sow gestation crates and has pressured some restaurant chains to begin moving away from other abusive factory farming methods, such as battery cages for chickens. While new laws create meaningful improvements, Chipotle provides a practical, persuasive example of a company that has achieved superior performance while supporting humane treatment of animals.
“A lot of people in the industry say there shouldn’t be legislation, that the market should decide,” said Bernard Rollin, Ph.D., an animal ethicist at Colorado State University who pioneered humane treatment for lab animals in the 1980s and is now focusing on farm animals. “Chipotle has led by doing good and doing well at the same time, and influencing the entire food system.”
In addition to influencing the food system and creating new opportunities for suppliers, Ells says Food With Integrity is helping to build awareness and increase demand for sustainably raised foods among customers.
“We are educating our customers about the tastes and benefits of eating fresh, naturally raised foods,” says Ells. “And the more they come to appreciate these better foods, the more they are going to want them from others.”