In April of 2015 the popular quick-service restaurant Chipotle, announced they were once more defying the modus operandi by eliminating genetically modified (GM) foods from their menu. The direction is not unfamiliar to the company. Since the beginning, their unique business model has positioned them as the paragon of high volume food that is sustainably sourced, locally produced, organic, and responsibly farmed.
Whether you realize it or not, Chipotle has a large sphere of influence on the foodservice industry. Their approach to food challenged a largely complacent industry, to kick start the movement that has become focal to foodservice today. While that is not entirely because of Chipotle, credit is still due for being one of the pioneers. They have successfully disseminated their approach on a national scale, and in high volume on a daily basis in each unit.
So, if Chipotle wields influence that can impact the foodservice industry, does this mean their new vision will require the rest of the foodservice industry to follow suit? Will we all have to embrace GM free ingredients?
In January 2015, the Pew Research Center released a summary of the “Public and Scientists’ views on Science and Society.” The report includes a section of the public and scientists’ perception about GM foods. Interestingly, 57% of the public who were polled indicated they felt GM foods were generally unsafe to consume, while 88% of the scientists polled indicated they felt it was generally safe to consume GM foods.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2014, 93% of corn and 94% of soybean crops were genetically modified. It’s pretty incredible to think that over nine of every ten ears of corn produced in America are genetically modified. It also puts into context just how much of a commitment Chipotle has made towards their transition: it has required Chipotle to support farmers financially to change their crops in order to support Chipotle’s consumption levels.
Steve Ells, co-CEO of Chipotle, has acknowledged an increased cost to move away from GM products; however, the cost is minimal. For a company with 1,700 stores nationwide, with a new store opening on average every two days, it likely is a minimal cost. The change falls within the food philosophy of the company as well so it makes sense. What is equally intriguing though, is that a majority of the public believe that GM foods are generally unsafe. Irrational or not, this move plays directly into the public’s angst, and it has the potential to lead to a significant market share gain for Chipotle.
The reality is that most foodservice relies on a supplier for food products. The lack of direct access to the farmers becomes the primary limitation for using GM products. While the polled public may indicate they believe GM foods to be generally unsafe, there has been no demonstration that it impacts their decision to buy. It will be worth keeping an eye on Chipotle over the next few quarters. If they experience a spike, it could be an indication that this is something the public wants. If their growth remains consistent, it may be an indicator that GM foods don’t necessarily have as high of a priority in the public buying psyche as anticipated. For Chipotle, the transition has gained a lot of publicity and it has bolstered their already excellent brand image. It would be a small loss of the investment to transition, if any, should the public have less than a strong response to the change.
From a purely logistical standpoint, this is such a difficult bandwagon to jump on that it makes sense to sit back and watch this unfold. If demand grows, so too will the supply chains, and ultimately your access. If this does become the new wave, Chipotle will once more be credited as a trailblazer and the world will keep turning. In the meantime, you can take solace in knowing that 88% of scientists polled think the genetically modified foods you’re serving are generally safe to consume!