US: Chipotle stops serving pork at hundreds of restaurants, citing humane concerns

After learning that the pork it was serving did not meet its animal welfare guidelines, fast-track, fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain, Chipotle, has temporarily stopped serving pork-based carnitas at 600 stores around the nation. Why is this potentially self-harming move interesting and pertinent?

In a statement, the company stressed that the pigs they buy were treated markedly better than those from pigs raised in industrial settings.

“Conventionally raised pigs generally do not have access to the outdoors, spend their lives in densely crowded buildings, live on hard slatted floors with no bedding and no ability to root, and are given antibiotics to keep them from getting sick,” the company said in a statement.

“We would rather not serve pork at all than serve pork from animals that are raised in this way.”

The move, like its recent avocado shortage announcement, provides free publicity for a company that hopes to continue winning over millennial audiences by walking its talk and maintaining high standards.

“Increasingly, younger diners are seeking out fresher, healthier food and chains that offer customisable menu options for little more than the price of a combo meal,” reported The Wall Street Journal late last year.

Data compiled for the WSJ by restaurant consulting firm, Technomic, found that McDonald’s customers in their 20′s and 30′s “are defecting to competitors,” and that visits by 19-21 year-olds fell nearly 13 percent since 2011.

“Millennials, more so than older generations, prefer to visit restaurants that offer new and unique foods and flavours,” says a Technomic report.

Increased empathy for farmed animals is a key trend  highlighted by many pundits in the past few years.

Says one observer, Wayne Roberts, US author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food, the world can largely thank California for setting the pace; a populous state that has the chutzpah to set a trend which corporations must follow, or risk losing sales to this massive market.

He writes: “This year [2014], the state banned chicken eggs, pork and veal raised in cages or crates denying them a normal and healthy range of motion. A number of corporations have already signed on to meet or exceed the California requirements, including such corporate giants as Nestle, Unilever, Starbucks, Burger King and McDonalds, among others, are extending California practices throughout their operations. Global competition is not always a race to the bottom.”

Says another observer, Roberto A. Ferdman, writing in The Washington Post: “Chipotle’s core mission, selling ‘food with integrity‘, centers around what the company calls a respect for all participants in the supply chain, including animals, farmers and the environment.

“Ever since the company first opened more than 20 years ago, it has worked to make good on that promise by seeking out ways to cut its carbon footprint, carefully choose its farmers, source its ingredients locally where it can, and work with meat farmers like Niman Ranch Pork Company, which has long been a leader in humane animal practices.

“This has been a major key to the chain’s success and why it’s beating so many of its competitors. While fast food giants, like McDonald’s, have struggled after years of prioritising cheapness in its supply chain, Chipotle has thrived by putting sustainability first. The unparalleled success of the chain is glaring proof that people are willing to pay a bit more for that promise. Chipotle’s growth speaks for itself.”…. Read more here