Chipotle is ramping up its use of locally grown ingredients by 10 million pounds.
Already strongly focused on sourcing as naturally and sustainably raised ingredients as a large restaurant chain can profitably source, Chipotle is hardly making a major shift with this decision. Since 2008, it has included local produce as a company priority. And as for how big a change this is, it’s tough to tell. 10 million pounds sounds like an awful lot of produce, but at major national chains the amount of food served in total each day is staggering.
But the announcement comes at a time when Chipotle may need some good press. It’s grown very quickly and gained an enormous following, and it’s about to launch a new Asian themed spinoff. But it just got slapped with news of a criminal investigation earlier this year into its hiring practices. Feds are concerned that the restaurant employs illegal immigrants on a grand scale.
Announcing a goal to increase its use of locally sourced food may make the restaurant look better in the meantime.
But how much will this actually do for its customers and its communities? I’m somewhat skeptical of the “local” concept to begin with. True, locally sourced produce is apt to retain more of its nutrients, and potentially taste better and fresher, than produce that’s sat on a truck for several days and was picked before ripening so as to afford it a longer shelf life. But I’m not sure the benefits go much further.
Local communities may benefit from the change, but from an economics standpoint there are very strong arguments against favoring one’s own local suppliers against trade with more distant producers. It sounds great in theory but in no way ensures that your community will be better off. (Often, other communities retaliate and then you lose their business too. What’s so bad about working together?). I’m also not 100% certain why we’d want to avoid buying from farmers in another state–are they any less good human beings than farmers within a 100 mile radius of your home?
What’s more, Chipotle’s definition of “local” is farms within 350 miles of any given restaurant. That is quite a distance, and probably requires that your ingredients sit on a truck for quite some time nonetheless.
But the pledge to buy more locally certainly sounds good, and if it means I’m getting fresher, tastier and more nutritious produce then I certainly won’t complain.
Do you find that locally sourced produce tastes better?