Chipotle Mexican Grill says it is the first—and currently only—national fast food chain to eliminate all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its menu items (excluding beverages), a process more than two years in the making.
The “clean” status comes as the chain has removed additives and preservatives from its tortillas used for burritos, tacos, and chips, and contain no more than five ingredients. The corn tortillas are made only from corn masa flour and water; and the wheat burrito tortillas are made from flour, water, canola oil, salt, and yeast.
“We have always used high quality ingredients and prepared them using classic cooking techniques,” Steve Ells, Chipotle Founder, Chairman and CEO said in a statement. “We never resorted to using added colors or flavors like many other fast food companies do simply because these industrial additives often interfere with the taste of the food. However, commercially available tortillas, whether they are for us or someone else, use dough conditioners and preservatives. I’ve been on a quest for a better tasting tortilla for years, and we finally achieved a tortilla made the way you would make them at home, and they are simply delicious.
Chipotle made a name for itself with its pared down menu, and commitments to local produce and humanely raised animal products, even pulling popular items off its menu when there were concerns over the sourcing. Its clever marketing campaigns helped propel it into Whole Foods Market level chic, rapidly expanding to more than 2,200 restaurants since opening its first in 1993.
It earned praise in 2013 when the chain said it would not only label GMOs (on its website), but work to remove them entirely from the menu, which it did in 2015 (except for its drink selections).
The chain hit hard times in recent years though with a series of serious foodborne illness outbreaks that led to several lawsuits and even a criminal federal investigation into the chain’s operations.
In 2016, after the outbreaks had been contained, Organic Authority surveyed more than 500 customers about whether or not they would eat at Chipotle again the near future, and half of those surveyed said they would not.
But the chain is making efforts to regain consumer trust, and cleaning up menu ingredients is as important to Chipotle as ever.
“Ultimately,” says Ells, “all of the decisions we make about the ingredients we use are about making the very best tasting food we can.”
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