Local initiative adds shine to aluminum foil haloJust how impressed should we be with Chipotle’s pledge to to use 15 million pounds of locally grown produce in 2013?

That seems like a lot of locally grown produce, but the news release doesn’t tell you what percentage of that total is credited to California and Florida farms. It did say the “local produce” component is up from 2012 levels of near 10 million pounds.

In an earlier news release on first quarter results, Chipotle said it opened 48 new restaurants in the first quarter, bringing the total number to  1,458 units. Revenue for the quarter totaled about $726 million.

That is a ton of burritos, and in turn many truckloads of commodities necessary to keep each restaurant flush with black beans, onions, peppers, et cetera.

The chain intends to keep growing , with the total number of units expected to climb by 165 to 180 units for all of 2013.

On its website, Chipotle says it uses about 97,000 pounds of avocados per day. Doing the math on that commodity alone (365 times 97,000), Chipotle buys about 35 million pounds per year. Ch- ching.

Chipotle didn’t reveal its annual total produce purchases in its news release about its commitment to local food.

The restaurant chain did define local produce as grown within 350 miles of where it’s served. Most produce travels about 1,500 miles, according to the company.

From the release:

Chipotle Mexican Grill plans to serve more than 15 million pounds of locally grown produce in its restaurants this year, up from its 2012 goal of 10 million pounds. As the only national restaurant company with a significant commitment to using local produce on a large scale, Chipotle has steadily increased its locally sourced produce supply since beginning the program in 2008.


Chipotle will work with a network of more than 70 local, family-owned farms to provide bell peppers, red onions, jalapenos, oregano, and romaine lettuce for its restaurants. Chipotle restaurants in Florida and California also serve locally grown tomatoes, as well as lemons and avocados in California. Chipotle’s use of locally grown produce is rooted in its belief that local produce arrives at its restaurants closer to the time it is harvested and results in better tasting food. Supporting local farms also creates and sustains opportunities for family farms in rural communities around the country.

The release even mentions a 2012 Mintel survey that found more than half (52%) of U.S. consumers say it’s more important to buy local produce than organic options.

In my view, the people who care about local food aren’t necessarily the same people who go to Chipotle to be satisfyingly full with a $5.95 burrito. While it is hard to argue with the intent to buy more local food, Chipotle investors may hope that the admirable impulse translates to greater sales and more efficiency - not unnecessary complications and higher costs.