Words by Willy Blackmore
If the thought of vegetables grilled wrapped up with rice and beans and cheese in a tortilla—all GMO-free—sounds like your idea of work-day-lunch Nirvana, prepare to be excited: Chipotle CEO Steve Ells said in a company conference call yesterday that the chain will phase out genetically modified ingredients in 2014. That change, however, will likely come at a cost. Ells also announced that Chipotle may increase prices next year.”I think that [the price increase is] probably in kind of a mid-single digit range, whether that’s 3, 4, 5 kind of percent,” he said on the call.
When Chipotle first disclosed which of its ingredients contain GMOs in March, the revelation was rather disappointing to the anti-genetic engineering crowd. Despite its popular image as the fast-food chain that cares, serving locally grown produce and striving to buy if-not-great-then-at-least-better meat than its competitors, the menu was riddled with transgene ingredients.
The initial response to the latest GMO news elicited joy when delivered to an audience of financial analysts and other investment-banking types. Following the announcment of the GMO and price-hike information, along with news of better-than-expected quarterly profits, shares rose nearly eight percent.
But while the logistics of transitioning away from transgene ingredients is mired in the kind of supply-and-demand, profit-and-loss world of supply chains and wholesale markets, the success of a GMO-free Chipotle will depend on the consumer response. And while the tortillas and cooking oils will be GMO-free sometime in 2014, the chain won’t be able to eliminate all genetically engineered ingredients from its restaurants.
“Right now there is really no way to find adequate supply of animals that have not eaten any crops containing GMO ingredients,” Ells says about non-GMO meats, which Chipotle will not be purchasing. Similarly, high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened sodas will continue to contain GMOs.
Still, Ells is correct in saying that this is a first for a fast-food restaurant. But will diners be stoked enough about GMO-free burritos that they’ll celebrate, rather than balk, at the price increases?