Monday, February 18, 2008

Do have a cow, man

Coincidence or calculation? On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announces the biggest beef recall in the nation’s history, citing the failure of a southern California slaughterhouse to heed a particular protection against mad cow disease. Earlier, employees at the plant had been videotaped using prods to force “downer” cows—animals unable to stand, a possible symptom of mad cow disease—to stand and be slaughtered. On Monday, Chipotle Mexican Grill announces that its restaurants in Minnesota are switching to “natural” beef from animals that were “humanely raised” and fed a purely vegetarian diet. Mixing animal matter into cattle feed has been identified as a cause of mad cow disease and hence is no longer legal in the U.S.

“Our commitment to working with like-minded suppliers who share our belief that food should be raised with respect for the environment, the animals, and the people involved is helping us make superior quality food, including naturally raised meat, accessible and affordable so everyone can eat better,” Chipotle CEO and founder Steve Ells said in the announcement.

Chipotle has been gradually buying more and more hormone-free meats to supply its 700-plus restaurants. Ditto for organic beans. Insiders say the chain would hurry up the changeover if it could secure enough of a supply at a feasible price. So today’s announcement was probably in the works for some time.

If that’s the case—and I for one presume it is—then the sequence of events underscores what a compelling point of difference Chipotle is offering the public. Consumers read in their daily newspaper that 143 million pounds of beef have been recalled because of a slight food-safety concern. When they log into FaceBook, they learn from one of the dozens of Chipotle sites in that network that the chain is lessening the chances that its patrons would be exposed to a peril like that, no matter how slight. And it’s promoting the humane treatment of animals in the process.

Is it any wonder the company posted a 70 percent leap in profit last year?


  1. Peter,

    You bring up a great point about Chipotle, but also a bigger issue of our fragile food supply chain here in the US and globally.

    Chipotle clearly is ahead of the curve here and it is no wonder that they clearly understand their demographic. The brand is more in tune with a younger mindset who can appreciate food that is grown "naturally".

    As a father of 3 with young kids, I am constantly concerned about our food supply here in the US. Several years ago when I was involved in the ice cream industry, many dairy experts were concerned over the fragility of our current beef and dairy supply. This most recent incident shows that we have a long way to go and lends itself to any underhanded behavior amongst our suppliers and manufacturers.

    I feel that this recent beef recall is really the tip of the iceberg. We will have to see how it all pans out.

  2. Peter, Im happy that Chipotle understands their market but the timing of their press release is opportunistic at best. What does "Natural" beef have to do with the recall. For the record, the handling of downer cattle could happen in the natural cattle business also. This was an ethics issue. As for our "fragile food supply chain", I couldn't disagree more with the "Chicken Little" mentality. By far and away, the US has the safest food supply in the world due to the diligent work of QA professionals at Foodservice companies and at the vendor end.Every business has a few unethical creatures but that should not allow anyone to paint the entire industry with misguided broadstrokes of duplicity. The real lessons from this incident include making sure that the purchasing department and QA departments work hand in hand in every organization with buyin at the highest levels of a company. It is a well known but little spoken fact that most companies that reputable in the beef industry don't want to touch bidding on school foodservice accounts because of the bidding process. The first red flag was why Georgia school districts were purchasing from a company on the west coast. Also, Just saying you have a 100% no tolerance policy for foodborne pathogens and contamination is empty without verification procedures.

  3. hi Peter, Sorry I can't let this one go but the Hypocrisy by all involved the the Washington recall and Washington is driving me insane. First, This is not foodborne but a recall based on the chance that one of the downer cows caught being abused by an idiot handler might be one in the 600,000 slaughtered weekly with a chance of mad cow, even though there have been no cases in 12-18 months. But because a PETA activist with no life lied and took a video 143 million lbs of beef was recalled and Washington wants to dismantle the USDA. Unbelievable in the depth and breadth of stupidity. Heres an idea, I would put the USDA in charge of border control, because I would take the better odds that they would catch 599,999 illegals out of 600,000. Maybe even catch a terrorist or two. Now that is a real threat. How about a hidden video of sanitation in an organic vegetable farm. That would shake up a few PETA trees, but that is assuming they are rational, thinking humans.

    Sincerely Steakman