Industry News | March 28, 2017

Chipotle Hits Big Milestone in Clean-Label Initiative

Chipotle Mexican Grill announced that it has become the only national restaurant brand with no added colors, flavors, or preservatives in any of the ingredients it uses to prepare its food (except for lemon and lime juices, which can be used as preservatives, though Chipotle uses them only for taste). This applies to all Chipotle restaurants in the U.S. and does not include beverages. The accomplishment furthers the company’s mission to make better food accessible to everyone.

Two years ago, the company began working to eliminate unnecessary additives and preservatives from the tortillas it uses to make burritos, tacos, and chips. The new tortillas are now served in all the company's U.S. restaurants, and were tested extensively in Chipotle restaurants around the country beginning in January. The new recipes for corn and flour tortillas now contain between two and five ingredients. For example, the new flour tortillas are made using only flour, water, canola oil, salt, and yeast. The corn tortillas used for the chips are made only with corn masa flour and water.

“We have always used high quality ingredients and prepared them using classic cooking techniques,” says Steve Ells, Chipotle founder, chairman, and CEO. “We never resorted to using added colors or flavors like many other fast food companies do simply because these industrial additives often interfere with the taste of the food. However, commercially available tortillas, whether they are for us or someone else, use dough conditioners and preservatives. I’ve been on a quest for a better tasting tortilla for years, and we finally achieved a tortilla made the way you would make them at home, and they are simply delicious. Ultimately, all of the decisions we make about the ingredients we use are about making the very best tasting food we can.”

Chipotle has long been a pioneer in serving better quality ingredients. This includes the use of local and organically grown produce when available and practical, dairy from cows raised on pasture, and meats from animals raised without hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics. Additionally, none of the ingredients used in Chipotle’s food have been genetically modified. With the introduction of its new tortillas, the company now touts only 51 real ingredients used to prepare all of its food. This is in stark contrast to most other fast food chains where a single menu item can contain 40 or more ingredients—many of which are added flavors, colors, preservatives, and other industrial additives.

“When helping people find ways to eat well, I always encourage them to look for food made with simple ingredients, and without unnecessary additives. Even the word ‘natural,’ when it comes to additives, can be misleading because there are added colors and added flavors that can be labeled as ‘natural,’” says Ellie Krieger, RD, nutritionist, chef, and host of the public television show “Ellie’s Real Good Food.” And when I go out to eat, I seek out restaurants that use the same real, high-quality ingredients I use in my own kitchen. That’s why I absolutely love what Chipotle is doing here.”

Chipotle’s accomplishment comes at a time when other fast food brands are scrambling to clean up their ingredient statements as consumers turn away from processed foods and foods with added colors, flavors, preservatives, and other industrial additives. But nearly every fast food chain has chosen the easier path of simply switching from artificial flavors and colors to “natural” versions of additives that serve the same purpose. Some fast food companies have gone so far as to designate the preservatives they use as” natural” even though nearly all preservatives identified in FDA rules are known as “chemical preservatives."

Evidence of how confusing the distinction between artificial and natural additives can be is illustrated by looking at the ingredient statement from what is arguably fast food’s most popular offering: the french fry. Typical fast food french fries contain several ingredients including “natural beef flavor.” Even though it contains no beef, the “natural” beef designation can be used simply because the chemical is derived from plant material.

“Rather than switching from artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives to ‘natural’ alternatives of the same additives, fast food companies should be asking why their food needs added colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives in the first place,” says Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer for Chipotle. “Because we prepare our fresh food using classic cooking techniques we avoid using the industrial additives typically associated with fast food—but most importantly, that approach is the reason our food is so delicious.”

The company also released a "visual ingredient statement" which visually depicts the ingredients in each of its menu items. The visual ingredient statement can be seen at http://www.chipotle.com/ingredients.

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by QSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.