Chipotle is Best: Uses More Than 1.5 Million Pounds Of Florida Produce

Categories: Food Industry
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Lee Klein
I never have much good to say about chain restaurants, but I've long touted Chipotle Mexican Grill as being better than the rest. The two main two reasons: Its tacos and burritos are tastier than any dishes served up by McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, et al. And there's its commitment to "Food with Integrity." Most of the animals used in Chipotle's offerings contain no antibiotics or growth hormones; Sources include Niman Ranch pork, Bell & Evans chicken, and Meyer Natural Angus beef. Chipotle buys more naturally raised meat than any restaurant business in America, which has a ripple effect among other chains as well as among suppliers. For instance, Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, credited Chipotle for its decision to eliminate sow stalls. That's better for you and I, and also for the animals, who can roam freely during life and are given a diet of vegetarian feed with no animal byproducts.

Other ingredients are similarly stellar -- zero artificial colors or flavorings, zero trans fatty acids, zero sugar, zero nuts, and zero eggs. Forty percent of the beans used are organic. And in recent years, Chipotle's Locally Grown Initiative has increased the use of produce from local farms (within 350 miles from the participating restaurants). One such supplier is Pero Family Farms in Delray Beach.

This brings us to Chipotle's relationships with farmers, and also to tomato growers and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I spoke with Chris Arnold, director of communications for Chipotle, about both matters.

"This year we'll have between 50 and 60 farms around the country that will provide local produce," says Arnold. "The things that we get locally, depending on the market, are red onions, romaine lettuce, jalapeño peppers, bell peppers, and oregano. Some of those grow better than others in certain places." He adds that "quality and consistency" are the two things they look for -- and are not always easy to find -- from the smaller local farms.

In 2011, Chipotle purchased nearly 1.5 million pounds of local Florida produce, and this year the company has already sourced more local Florida produce than it did in all of 2011. The peppers from Pero Family Farms in Delray Beach are beautiful. You can purchase the sweet (and colorful) mini-peppers and "stoplight peppers" (red, yellow, green) at Publix market. Chipotle's jalapeños are also sourced from Pero Farms, which has been a family business in Delray since 1908.

I mentioned to Chris that anytime I write about Chipotle, it brings comments regarding the company's relationship with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Florida tomato growers.

"What's important to understand about the nature of this issue," he starts, "is that when the CIW started their program in the mid-1990's, they were originally targeting growers. Then they switched gears, targeting large-scale buyers like Chipotle, or McDonald's, or Taco Bell... to get the buyers to put economic pressure on the growers so the growers would change their practices.

"Now more than 90% of all the tomatoes grown in Florida are grown under CIW's program; so in effect, they won. Anyone who wants to participate in their program can, and we've been doing that since 2009. We only work with growers who have signed on with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. We're working directly with growers rather than through an agreement with CIW. The result is the same in terms of benefits to the workers. Workers receive the better wages, growers are bound by CIW protocols and codes of conduct, and the CIW has the authority to audit the growers based on the contract between the grower and CIW."

Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis' philosophy of using fresher, healthier ingredients, tied in to his company's enormous purchasing power, has helped farmers, animals, and customers as much as just about anyone else in the food industry -- and certainly way more than anyone in the fast food industry (in other words, you won't be tasting any local peppers in the new Burger King snack wrap). That's good enough for me.

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Location Info

Chipotle Mexican Grill

14776 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami, FL

Category: Restaurant


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2 comments
Robert
Robert

Wow, Lee, instead of just repeating Mr. Arnold's public relations BS you could have taken a few minutes to call the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and get their opinions about the Chipotle's half-assed response to the human rights crisis that Florida farmworkers have long faced.  Heck you could have taken 20 seconds and gone to the CIW website and seen that the very first post right now is part of an extensive rebuttal to "Chipolte's Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs and Fabrications" regarding the Campaign for Fair Food.  You should check it out because there are rebuttals to pretty much everyone of Arnold's five sentences quoted above (and more) - he repeats those sentences almost verbatim every time he's questioned about the "farmworker issue."  Here is the link to the Chipotle 10 Ten Falsehoods list: http://ciw-online.org/chipotle...

In fact, the one at the top of the CIW website right now is "... we only purchase our tomatoes from growers who have signed on with the CIW."  Sound familiar?  Here part of the CIW response: "Chipotle's approach to the Fair Food Program can be summarized in two words: 'Trust us.'No partnership. No verification. No commitment. Just Chipotle promising that it will do the right thing...The principal difference between Chipotle and the ten Participating Buyers contractually committed to the Fair Food Program, however, is that the other ten buyers have agreed to verify their purchases. In other words, they're not just saying, "Trust us." Instead, they are held to a very real standard of transparency that encourages accuracy. By signing a Fair Food Agreement, they have entered into a binding commitment to pay a premium on all their Florida tomato purchases and to buy only from Participating Growers, a commitment that can be verified and enforced, a commitment Chipotle won't make."

And as far as this notion that "in effect, they [the CIW] won," again it would have helped you to actually talk to the CIW about this or even just read their website.  Here's part of the comments from when two CIW members just recieved the Growing Green Award in the Food Justice Category from the Natural Resources Defense Council: we want to make one thing very clear: "This is by no means the Fair Food Program's "Mission Accomplished" moment. It is still far too early declare victory.Victory doesn't come when you develop a new code of conduct or set of standards.Victory doesn't come when you convince retailers to adopt your code.Victory doesn't come when growers agree to implement your code.Victory doesn't even come when a worker is sexually harassed, she finds the strength within herself to complain, her complaint is investigated, a finding is issued, and the harasser is fired on the spot, or, failing that, the grower refuses to comply with the finding and loses business to growers who are complying with the program.Victory only comes when that result happens over, and over, and over again -- consistently and sustainably -- until the harassment stops.We are not there yet, but with your continued support, and with your action in the campaign to bring the supermarket industry into the Fair Food Program, we will get there."

So while the CIW hasn't declared "Mission Accomplished", Chipotle has for them?  Seems ironic or self-serving or just plain insulting to the decades of hard work put in the members of the CIW to slowly and painstakingly create a more just agricultural industry for themselves.  Part of what a REAL victory will require is companies like Chipotle's making a REAL commitment to the Fair Food Program and not trying to come up with the half-measures which side-step the people who have actually been fighting this struggle and forging a REAL solution for so long.

Robert
Robert

Update: it appears that the CIW took notice of this article and responded to Arnold's ridiculous comments.  In fact they made it #1 in their countdown of Chipotle's "Top Ten Falsehoods, Fibs and Fabrications..."  Congratulations! Check it out: http://ciw-online.org/chipotle_top10.html The CIW had a slightly different take on Arnold's comments then me so it's really worth reading it so that you actually know what the CIW has to say instead of taking Chris Arnold's or my opinions for that matter about it as your source of authority.

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