Country Natural Beef goes mainstream with Chipotle partnership

Country Natural Beef is edging into new markets in a nascent partnership with Chipotle Mexican Grill that shows sustainably raised beef is gaining footing in the mainstream.

That’s new for Country Natural Beef, a cooperative brand produced by 120 ranchers spanning 12 states and originally conceived as a niche product. Developed in Eastern Oregon 24 years ago, Country Natural Beef comes from hormone and antibiotic-free cattle fed a vegetarian diet of grasses, hay, potatoes and grain. Its beef is Food Alliance-certified.

The brand’s new partnership with Chipotle shows the philosophy behind Country Natural Beef has far broader appeal than it did when created by ranchers in Eastern Oregon.

Chipotle announced this week that all of the beef used in its barbacoa, a spicy shredded beef, is now naturally raised. Following similar purchasing decisions for its chicken and pork, Chipotle plans to serve more than 75 million pounds of naturally raised meat in nearly 1,000 restaurants in 2010, solidifying its place as the largest restaurant seller of naturally raised meat.

Founder Steve Ells has pressed the chain’s ingredient quality toward increasingly sustainably grown and naturally raised products through what the company has called its "Food with Integrity" initiative, launched in 2001.

A trained chef, Ells has said that meats raised with respect for the animals, land and farmers just tastes better. Following the increased purchasing of natural beef, Chipotle reports that all of its pork, 85 percent of its beef and 80 percent of its chicken is naturally raised.

Dan Probert of Probert Ranch in Vale, Oregon, is executive director of Country Natural Beef. He said to solidify a place among Chipotle’s suppliers, Country Natural Beef allowed inspections on member ranches, at participating feedlots and at its processing plant. Country Natural Beef also signed an affidavit swearing to the welfare of the animals in its care and to its sustainability practices to meet Chipotle’s standards.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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