Chipotle Is Not Impressed With Fast-Food Chains Ditching Artificial Ingredients

A new promotional website seeks to show how much more the chain is doing compared with competitors.

(Photo: Courtesy Chipotle)

Jul 16, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Major restaurant chains including McDonald’s, Subway, Panera, and Taco Bell have announced, to much fanfare, that their food will soon no longer contain weird-sounding, unfamiliar ingredients such as propionic acid and Yellow No. 5. But while the industry may be getting less artificial, Chipotle is busy looking for new sources of “responsibly raised” pork, narrowing the number of ingredients it uses overall, and moving away from genetically modified foods.

It’s doing more than its competitors, and it wants consumers to know it. So on July 21 it will launch a website, called Friend of Faux, that will allow people to compare the ingredients used in Chipotle’s food with those preferred by others in the industry. To paraphrase its advertising, the chain says it “Gives Zero Faux,” about bread made without azodicarbonamide—the infamous “yoga mat chemical that blogger the Food Babe brought to light last year.

“These stories represent a few nice steps being made on a road that Chipotle paved more than 20 years ago,” a PR rep wrote to pitch TakePart the announcement, which was made on Wednesday.

Friend or Faux allows user to compare the ingredients found in Chipotle products with standard chain fare. “We know that no fast food is perfect, including our own,” text on the website reads. “For example, tortillas—even ours—contain more faux ingredients than we’d like.”

According to the website, Chipotle tortillas are made of flour, water, whole-wheat flour, canola oil, salt, baking soda, wheat bran, fumaric acid, calcium propionate, sorbic acid, and sodium metbisulfite. But the chain is moving toward a simplified recipe that includes nothing more than whole-wheat flour, water, oil, and salt.

Chipotle may be ahead of the industry curve when it comes to steering away from artificial ingredients and generally simplifying what it uses to make its menu items. But that hasn’t made it immune to criticism. In a number of instances, Chipotle has gone so far to pursue a consumer demand—say, for non-GMO foods—that it has adopted new standards, dropped ingredients, and marketed it all to diners in spite of itself.

Following the April announcement that Chipotle would no longer serve genetically engineered ingredients, NPR’s The Salt blog ran a story with the headline “Why We Can’t Take Chipotle’s GMO Announcement All That Seriously.” The thrust of the argument was that despite the “non-GMO” signs in the restaurants’ windows, genetically engineered ingredients still played a part in the company’s supply chain. The soda is still sweetened with GMO high-fructose corn syrup, the livestock raised for meat fattened with GMO feed. And according to a Pew study, despite 57 percent of Americans believing that genetically engineered foods are unsafe to eat, 89 percent of scientists believe they are.

Finding enough of a given ingredient that fits its standards can at times be difficult for Chipotle, which has more than 1,700 locations in the United States. Take the great carnitas blackout of 2015, which saw the pork-based filling disappear from numerous locations across the country after Chipotle dropped a pork supplier that had violated its “responsibly raised” standards.

A new supplier in the United Kingdom is filling the pork gap—but unlike Chipotle’s domestic hogs, the imported meat may come from animals that are treated with antibiotics for medical reasons.

Still, negotiating the finer points of what is undoubtedly a more ethical, sustainable pork supply chain than its competitors’ is more complicated than switching from artificial food colorings to natural dyes.