Chipotle strengthens buy-local stance in Pacific Northwest
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Chipotle is buying corn chips and tortillas from Salem-based Don Pancho.
Chipotle Mexican Grill’s growing commitment to locally grown ingredients has ramped up purchasing from food suppliers in Oregon and Washington, with benefits for Salem-based Don Pancho Authentic Mexican Foods Inc.
The growing focus on locally supplied food ingredients at Chipotle stems from its “Food with Integrity” initiative, which founder Steve Ells has used to press the chain’s ingredient quality toward increasingly sustainably grown and naturally raised products since 2001.
The expanded purchasing in the Northwest follows a commitment to serve 10 million pounds of locally grown produce in its restaurants in 2011, doubling the amount of locally grown produce served in Chipotle restaurants in 2010. Other food ingredients are also being sourced locally, including tortilla chips and wraps from Don Pancho.
Chipotle Mexican Grill has 1,100 restaurants nationally, including 13 in Washington and 12 in Oregon. It employs roughly 26,500 people. The food chain has focused its purchasing within 350 miles or nearer of restaurants served.
In Oregon and Washington, Chipotle is purchasing red onion from Curry & Company in Brooks, jalapenos and green pepper from Fewel Farms in Prosser, Wash., oregano from HerbCo International in Duvall, Wash. and tortilla chips and 13-inch round tortillas from Don Pancho in Salem.
Tom Hoffert, national food service account manager with Don Pancho, said the growing relationship with Chipotle has been healthy for the business, which employs 300 people manufacturing tortilla chips and wraps.
“It’s a significant amount of business. We really appreciate their doing business with us and hopefully they appreciate the great quality as well,” he said.
Hoffert said he could not provide details on the exact quantity of chips and tortillas purchased by Chipotle, or where the future of the partnership between the two companies might lead. But he indicated he expected the partnership to grow and that the business would enable Don Pancho to continue to bolster its workforce and extend the company’s five-year hiring trend.
"The Chipotle piece has definitely contributed toward our growing our employment bas here in Salem,” he said.
Chipotle officials say the tortillas are served at restaurants in Nyberg Woods shopping center in Tualatin, the Washington Green restaurant in Whitford and in Salem locations.
Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, said the decision to source ingredients locally was about serving better tasting food and doing what the chain's operators see as the right thing — more so than gaining a competitive advantage by capitalizing on the eat-local trend.
"Our commitment to serving ingredients from more sustainable sources goes back more than a decade, and we do more of it than anyone. Chipotle serves more naturally raised meat — from animals that are raised in a humane way and never given antibiotics or added hormones — than any other restaurant. We are the only national restaurant company with significant commitments to local and organically grown produce," he said.
Arnold said Chipotle was the first national restaurant company to serve dairy products made with milk from cows not treated with synthetic hormones. It announced in June of last year that all of the beef used in its barbacoa, a spicy shredded beef, is now naturally raised.
The move solidified Chipotle’s place as the largest restaurant seller of naturally raised meat following similar decisions with chicken and pork, in part through purchasing from Country Natural Beef in summer 2010. A Food Alliance-certified, cooperative brand, Country Natural Beef is produced by 120 ranchers spanning 12 states. It was conceived as a niche product in Eastern Oregon. The Chipotle partnership was the first major partnership for Country Natural Beef to signal broad, mainstream appeal for its naturally raised meats, which had previously been sold through grocery chains and Burgerville where natural foods were an emphasis.
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