Commentary

Chipotle Says It's Free Of GMOs

Chipotle Mexican Grill says that it has eliminated all genetically modified organisms from its menu items in all 1,831 of its restaurants, giving it a leg-up on bragging rights in the “better-for-you” category of the fast-casual foods wars. “G-M-OVER IT,” reads the hed on a section of Chipotle’s website that discusses the move, which has been several years in the making.

“Chipotle is really showing that there's a better way to do fast food," Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells tells CNNMoney’s Cristina Alesci, as reported by Patrick Gillespie. “They say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we'd rather have food that doesn't contain them.”

Ells also said: “We want to make the old fast food model irrelevant. We want to make great ingredients and classic cooking techniques accessible to everybody.”

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Elaborating on that point with the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom, Ells says, “Just because food is served fast doesn’t mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.”

Among the measures taken, writes Jeffrey Rowland in Apex Tribune, “all their restaurants use non-GMO corn [and] the soybean oil used so far for cooking has been replaced with GMO-free rice bran oil and sunflower oil.”

“Non-GMO" is one of the fastest-growing label trends on U.S. food packages, with sales of such items growing an average of 13% a year since 2010 to more than $3 billion last year, according to market-research firm Nielsen,” Annie Gasparro reports for the Wall Street Journal.

But GMO components “lurk in baking powder, cornstarch and a variety of ingredients used as preservatives, coloring agents and added vitamins, as well as in commodities like canola and soy oils, corn meal and sugar,” Strom reports, making it logistically difficult and more costly for restaurants to be completely GMO-free.

Indeed, Alesci and Gillespie point out that Chipotle’s pork and chicken offerings “still come from animals that eat GMO-feed” although “its beef comes from pasture-raised cattle.” Eighty percent of the food consumed in the U.S. is genetically modified, they report, citing USDA data.

Chipotle has run short of beef from time to time, and last December it announced that it could not supply all of its restaurants with the pork needed for carnitas after an audit found that one of its suppliers had failed to meet its standards for raising pigs,” Gasparro reports.

“The manufacturers of GMO seeds claim that GMOs are widely considered to be safe, but we don’t believe the scientific community has reached a consensus on the long-term implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption,” the Chipotle website points out, citing a statement by about 300 scientists “rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption” and calling for more research “by independent third parties, not the companies marketing GMO crops themselves. Until such studies are conducted, we believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”

Huffington Post has a “6 Things You Didn't Know about Chipotle Mexican Grill” that starts with the information that all of the locations are company-owned. Also of interest: all advertising is in-house.

“It's nearly unheard-of for a company as big as Chipotle to shun ad agencies when coming up with advertising concepts, but they've done just that,” reads the caption. “While their ads aren't nearly as ubiquitous as those of McDonald's or Subway, the ads they've released have been unique and effective, usually touting the virtues of small-scale farming.” 

Last May, it did name GSD&M as its lead media agency and to work with it on creative projects. “While the marketer's creative direction will continue to be driven internally, it will ‘look to GSD&M to take on select creative projects,’” Maureen Morrison reported in Ad Age at the time. “GSD&M will work primarily on Chipotle's traditional advertising, which the chain calls its ‘top-of-mind’ marketing, designed to raise awareness.”

Indeed, the company has relied outside agencies such as CAA — whose work includes the Cannes-winning (with Edelman) “Scarecrow” execution — so Chipotle really has a long way to go before it can claim it’s free of agency modified organisms.

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