Chipotle Mexican Grill is leading what I hope will become a strong movement in the U.S. The company, which serves Mexican fast food, is model for other fast food restaurants in terms of health-conscious and sustainable products. This article on Fortune even likens Chipotle to “the fast-food equivalent of yuppie supermarket chain Whole Foods Markets”.
The key take-away from the article is that deviation from the norm is being driven by the producer, not the consumer. Chipotle could serve junk food like most fast food chains but it doesn’t. The average consumer is too occupied by his daily grind to seek out or create alternatives – they must be presented to him. That is why it is vital businesses grow a conscience. Steve Ells, the founder and chief executive of Chipotle says:
“As I toured confinement operations and looked at how the animals were treated and what the workers were subjected to and the effect on the environment, I knew that I didn’t want my success to be based on that kind of exploitation,” Ells says. (In response, Cindy Cunningham of the National Pork Board says: “Farmers live on the farm. They breathe the air. They drink the water. It’s in their best interest to protect the environment, and they do. The same goes for animal care – an animal that is not well cared-for is not going to produce well.”)
From an economic stand point, liberals and conservatives have always been on opposite ends of supporting big business. Personally, the hardest part about supporting big business is accepting their ignorance of social and environmental issues. If business was about making money, but not at any cost, more people would be able to see eye to eye on many policy issues society currently finds divisive.
By e-mail, Lederhausen, a Chipotle director, told me that that he thinks the company’s values are vital to its success. Chipotle, he says, is “one of the best examples in the marketplace of a business with deeper values, deeper meaning and ultimately deeper connections with their customer base, WITHOUT being pretentious, boring or finger pointing. Any business that can define a purpose bigger than their product,” he says, “will outperform businesses that are just selling product.” It’s tough to argue with that.