Chipotle aims to go GMO-free in 2014, prices expected to rise

According to the 2013 Chipotle earnings call, the restaurant chain’s CEO, Steve Ells, says that the chain will phase out genetically modified (GM) ingredients from their menu in 2014. The higher cost of non-GMO ingredients is expected to be reflected in the Mexican-style restaurant’s prices.

Chipotle’s reputation as the most responsibly-operated fast food chain is well deserved. Much of their ingredients are locally grown. And the chain has already made their indifference towards genetically modified ingredients clear and has made progress in removing GMOs from their menu. Undoubtedly, it’s been a challenge.  

The chain recently switched from soybean oil, which is almost always made from genetically modified soybeans, to non-GMO sunflower oil, since sunflowers have not yet been genetically modified, according to Chipotle’s ingredients statement.

Currently, also according to Chipotle’s ingredients statement, the only GM ingredients on Chipotle’s menu is derived from corn or soy. Soybean oil is present in their: chicken, Chipotle honey vinaigrette, fajita vegetables, brown rice, white rice and steak. And whole ground corn, soybean oil, yellow and white masa flour, toasted corn germ and corn starch are present in their tortilla products. 

Prices for Chipotle’s burritos, tacos and salads range from about $6 to $7, without guacamole or a drink. With the phasing out of GMO ingredients, that price is expected to rise to an undetermined amount.

“Once we have all that information at hand we’ll be able to do a better job of figuring out what the price increase might be. And in terms of timing it’s really hinging more on removing GMOs,” Ells said in the earnings call.

What is even less certain is how customers will react to the price increase. If Chipotle loses enough business, they could be forced to switch back to serving foods with GMO ingredients. But if customers respond positively to the change, it could raise the standard for fast food ingredients.

Next year, each order at Chipotle could mean a vote for agricultural responsibility.