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Union Tribune (2015-04-28) Bloomberg News

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Chipotle Mexican Grill has eliminated genetically modified organisms from all of its ingredients, an unprecedented move for a national U.S. restaurant chain that may give it a marketing edge over fast-food rivals.

The company, which began labeling its GMO ingredients two years ago and vowed to remove them, has now taken the final step of stripping them from tortillas and cooking oil. While the Food and Drug Administration has said that GMOs are safe, they have been increasingly targeted by consumer activists. Vermont recently became the first state to require the labeling of genetically modified ingredients.

“Though many countries have already restricted or banned the use of GMO crops, it’s clear that a lot of research is still needed before we can truly understand all of the implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption. While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-GMO ingredients,” said Steve Ells, co-chief executive officer of Chipotle.

The move coincides with a new Chipotle marketing campaign that will tout its use of simple, unprocessed ingredients. Removing the remaining GMOs from its menu gives the company fresh ammunition as Chipotle criticizes the food of rival chains.

To rid its menu of GMO ingredients, Chipotle said its suppliers planted non-GMO corn varieties for its tortillas. It also replaced soybean oil containing GMO ingredients with sunflower oil to cook its chips and taco shells, and with rice bran oil in other recipes. The new oils are made from crops for which there are no genetically modified varieties available for commercial use, the company noted.

It said the changes did not result in significantly higher costs and that it was not raising prices.

Going forward, the company said it was working on removing additives from its tortillas as well. Chipotle will still serve meat from animals that are given GMO feed; animals cannot be given GMO feed for meat to be considered organic.

Eschewing GMOs also limits Chipotle’s pool of suppliers. Already, the company has struggled to keep its menu items in stock, with a shortage of pork this year leading to “rolling blackouts” of the carnitas at its restaurants.

Chipotle is willing to live with some supply-chain risks because the GMO move reinforces its reputation for food quality, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a research firm in Chicago. It also helps burnish the brand, he said.

“It’s a necessary step for them to stay ahead of the competition,” he said. Few restaurants “are as loved as Chipotle. It’s almost like a religion to the younger generation.”


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Publisher Union Tribune
Author Bloomberg News
Pub Date 2015-04-28
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Keywords March Against Monsanto
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Topic revision: r1 - 28 Apr 2015, RaymondLutz
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