Chipotle continues shift with preservative purge
The firm’s U.S. stores now sell flour tortillas made with just five ingredients.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s quest to sell preservative-free food is now complete, giving the chain fresh bragging rights as it tries to rebuild its reputation and recover from a sales slump.
The company’s U.S. stores are now selling flour tortillas made with just five ingredients — flour, water, canola oil, salt and yeast, Chipotle said Tuesday. The burrito wrappers used to have dough conditioners and preservatives. The move marks the latest push by the Denver-based chain to revamp its ingredients and outdo rivals after food-poisoning incidents sent sales plunging and hurt its reputation.
“The way to grow the business is not through limited-time offers, extra value meals or menu proliferation with all kinds of new items,” chief executive officer Steve Ells said in an interview. “For us, instead it’s about improving the basic, wholesome ingredients.”
Restaurants have been rushing to clean up their menus in a bid to attract younger and more health-conscious diners. Panera Bread Co. has also been on a mission to sell additive-free foods, announcing bacon made without nitrates and preservatives last year. McDonald’s Corp. and Subway now sell chicken raised without antibiotics.
Since the foodborne-illness outbreaks at Chipotle in 2015, Panera has been outshining its rival among fast-casual restaurants. The bakery-cafe chain is expanding delivery and saw same-store sales rise 0.7 percent in the most recent quarter. Chipotle’s, however, continued to slide with a 4.8 percent drop.
Chipotle’s menu purge has been underway for years, but it lost the spotlight during the food-safety crisis. With the effort complete, the company now relies on 51 ingredients, including some organic produce and meat raised without hormones. The company has talked about selling a new dessert item this spring, which may add an ingredient or two, Ells said.
The changes have helped lift the stock. Chipotle rose as much as 1.7 percent to $421.99 in New York on Tuesday, and has gained 10 percent this year through Monday’s close.
The chain also says that none of its ingredients are genetically modified. The new tortillas, tested across the U.S. beginning in January, are stored in Chipotle restaurant coolers instead of at room temperature, Ells said. Its corn tortillas used for chips have two ingredients — corn masa flour and water. “This is Chipotle’s story — through the years we’ve made all of our ingredients better,” he said. “Today’s burrito is better than yesterday’s.”