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Chipotle to double use of local produce

Chipotle Mexican Grill expects to double the amount of locally grown produce used in the chain’s 1,100 restaurants this year, continuing efforts to underscore its “Food With Integrity” program.

Officials said Wednesday the chain expects to use more than 10 million pounds of produce from farms within 350 miles of the restaurants where it is served. In 2010 Chipotle’s goal for using local produce was about 5 million pounds.

“Our commitment to serving food made with better ingredients from more sustainable sources is one of the key drivers of our business,” said Chipotle founder and co-chief executive Steve Ells in a statement. “While sourcing produce locally can be difficult — particularly in regions with short growing seasons — we continue to find like-minded suppliers to allow us to serve this better food.

“Not only is local produce fresher and better tasting,” he added, “but it also helps support the environment and regional farming communities around the country.”

Chipotle’s Food With Integrity program began in 1999 when Ells began buying naturally raised pork.

Since then, the company gradually has been increasing the use of meat raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones, as well as using organic products and dairy from cows that have not been given synthetic growth hormones.

About 40 percent of the chain’s beans are certified organic, as of this year, and 35 percent of dairy products purchased are from pasture-raised cows — although the company expects all dairy products will reach that standard within a year.

In 2008, the company began sourcing local produce. By 2010, officials made the commitment to serve at least 50 percent of one produce item from a local farm in each market when seasonally available, including items like romaine lettuce, red onions, green peppers, jalapeños and oregano.

In California, the restaurants also use locally grown lemons, cilantro and avocados. Tomatoes are grown locally in California and Florida.

Earlier this year, Chipotle put the spotlight on its ingredients with a promotion during which burritos were wrapped in gold foil rather than the traditional silver. Guests were invited to participate in a “Wrap What You Love” contest, asking them to send pictures of something wrapped in gold or silver foil to compete for prizes.

Ells sees the company’s purchasing efforts as industry-changing.

“Finding sustainable sources for food in each region can be difficult,” he said. “But we are committed to serving food made with the finest ingredients available. The more consumers understand the benefit of eating food from more sustainable sources, the more they’re going to expect it from everyone.”

Meanwhile, Chipotle, which is scheduled to report second quarter results July 19, is undergoing a federal criminal probe into its hiring practices after U.S. immigration officials questioned the validity of employment eligibility documents among the chain’s workers in several states.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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