Chipotle executive talks sustainability at Yale event
NEW HAVEN, Mar 02, 2013 (New Haven Register - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The city's newest chain restaurant gave locals a peek inside the burrito Friday.
Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer of Chipotle Mexican Grill, gave an overview of the company's dual trajectories of aggressive growth and more sustainable food sources during an appearance at Yale University.
"The things we tend to look at are the ways animals are raised," Crumpacker said, as the mainly student crowd enjoyed a lunch supplied by Chipotle. "Our long-term view at Chipotle is to have all our proteins come from animals that are raised in pastures."
Chipotle recently opened a franchise on Chapel Street. The chain's 1,300 to 1,400 outlets serve an estimated 800,000 people a day, with an annual revenue that reached $2.8 billion last year.
Although founder Steve Ells started the chain 20 years ago, its focus on "food integrity" came after Ells visited a factory farm in 1999 where pigs were being raised. "He learned there's a better way to raise pork," Crumpacker said.
Chipotle now buys its pork products from Niman Ranch, which raises livestock outdoors in deeply bedded pens through a network of 700 ranches and farms.
"For every two restaurants we open, there's a new farmer that can join the network," Crumpacker said. He added that almost two-thirds of the chain's dairy ingredients come from cows that graze in pastures.
Crumpacker acknowledged that such policies mean the chain pays more for ingredients than its competitors do. He estimated that Chipotle spends roughly 33 percent of its sales on ingredients.
He also said the majority of consumers do not care about food sustainability issues when purchasing fast food. They care primarily about taste, value and proximity.
But for those people who do care about food integrity, the chain directs marketing efforts at such things as animal treatment and care for the environment. "For us, the more people care about where their food comes from, the more they're likely to search out places like Chipotle," Crumpacker said.
In New Haven, consumers also seek out businesses such as Claire's Corner Copia. Owner Claire Criscuolo said everyone benefits from ethically produced food.
"It's a constant battle, without a doubt," Criscuolo said. "It shouldn't be this complicated, but it is. It's important that people who grow the food, deliver the food and prepare the food are treated fairly."
During the Yale event, Mark Bomford, director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, asked how Chipotle's investors have reacted to the "ingredients with integrity" philosophy. Crumpacker said although using cheaper ingredients might increase profits, food sustainability is now "in the DNA" of the brand.
He also noted that because the chain's menu has remained largely unchanged for years, it "allows us to do just a few things, and do them really, really well."
At the end of the Yale presentation, the audience watched a preview of "Farmed and Dangerous," a comedy program Chipotle is producing for the web.
Call Jim Shelton at 203-789-5664.
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