Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) has been championing the "food with integrity" mantra for years, and now more of its peers are catching on. Chick-fil-A and Subway are the latest quick-service restaurants preparing to tweak their offerings to remove unnatural or controversial ingredients.
Chick-fil-A is moving to only purchasing chickens that haven't been treated with antibiotics. Farmers use antibiotics to treat disease or to stimulate growth, but there are fears that the wholesale use of antibiotics in the nation's food supply will increase our resistance to antibiotics when we actually need it -- when we're sick.
Subway is removing azodicarbonamide -- a chemical that's also found in shoe soles and yoga mats -- as a dough conditioner. The practice was called into question by FoodBabe.com blogger Vani Hari, tying Subway to the elasticity-fortifying chemical. Yes, this is the same blogger who convinced Chick-fil-A to improve its menu last year.
Subway will act on eliminating azodicarbonamide right away, but Chick-fil-A is giving itself five years to deal with its antibiotics problem to give its suppliers time to comply. The moves are still significant. With 1,700 locations, Chick-fil-A is the country's second-largest chicken chain after KFC, a unit of Yum (YUM). Subway is the global fast-food leader, with 41,270 sandwich shops across 104 different countries.
Even Chipotle Isn't Perfect
Chipotle strives to work with family farmers who respect the land and treat their animals humanely. It also refuses to use dairy products from cows raised on synthetic hormones. However, Chipotle concedes that it doesn't always live up to its expectations.
"Whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones," it explains on its website. "We source organic and local produce when practical."
Whenever possible? When practical? That certainly gives the restaurant chain some wiggle room. However, Chipotle's actions and its operating success have inspired many other concepts to follow suit.
It's a Revolution
Subway and Chilf-fil-A's changes put them among a long list of companies that have cleaned up their acts after being confronted with unwise practices.
Starbucks (SBUX) is one of the best known examples. Two years ago, it began to catch some heat for its use as cochineal as a food dye. What's cochineal? It's actually a dye derived from the bodies of crushed beetles, in this case used to add a lovely red hue to Starbucks' Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino, raspberry swirl cake, strawberry and banana smoothie, and other baked treats.
It's a natural food dye, but its presence on the ingredient list didn't sit well with vegetarians and folks who prefer not to ingest ground up insects.
Chipotle's mantra has been primarily positioned as an argument for sustainable farming of animals. This means raising livestock in humane habitats. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Chipotle earned critical praise three years ago when it rolled out a short film depicting a farmer who transforms his industrial meat factory into a more sustainable operation. Willie Nelson belts out a rendition of Coldplay's "The Scientist" in the rendered clip, which was also shortened into a television commercial.
Still, that idea hasn't gained enormous traction, simply because the pork, poultry, and beef raised that way costs more. But some are paying attention.
Wendy's (WEN) announced last year that it wants to move its ham and bacon sourcing to gestation stall-free pork suppliers. Just like Chick-fil-A with its antibiotic-free chicken, Wendy's is setting its goal for several years in the future. The burger chain's aiming to use stall-free pork by 2022.
However, things have to start somewhere. Given the success that Chipotle's been having -- sales rose nearly 18 percent last year -- it's easy to see why so many of its peers are ready to hop on the bandwagon.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks.
10 Foods You'll Have to Give Up to Avoid Eating GMOs
Chick-fil-A, Subway Are Adding a Dash More Integrity to Their Recipes
Pre-made soups can contain a large number of ingredients containing GMOs. For instance, Campbell's (CPB) popular condensed Tomato Soup lists high fructose corn syrup as its second biggest ingredient. According to the Non-GMO Project, nearly 88 percent of all corn planted in the United States is GMO.
It doesn't stop at HFCS, though. Take the company's Cream of Mushroom soup, which lists vegetable oil as its third ingredient. It specifically says the oil does come not only from corn, but from cottonseed, canola, and/or soybeans. However, in America, says the Non-GMO Project, 90 percent of cottonseed, 90 percent of rapeseed (the source of canola), and 94 percent of soybeans are GMOs.
Frozen foods are often sweetened with HFCS, according to IRT. And even if HFCS isn't on the ingredient list, the presence of non-cane sugar likely means GMOs are included. Sugar beets provide half of all consumable sugar in America, and 95 percent of those sugar beets are grown using GM seeds, according to the Non-GMO Project.
Many parents might be surprised to find out they've been feeding their infants GMOs. Both milk and soy products regularly show up the ingredient list for baby foods. In America, according to the Non-GMO Project, 94 percent of all soy is GM. Meanwhile, 88 percent of the corn fed to cows contains GMOs, meaning that such organisms are part of the food chain that ends with milk being produced and fed to infants.
If you didn't expect juice to make this list, that probably means you know a little something about GMOs: The Hawaiian papaya is the only genetically modified fruit readily available to average American consumers. The vast majority of fruits are don't have GMO variants in the marketplace. But in order to entice kids to drink more juice, many companies add HFCS or non-cane sugar. For instance, Minute Maid -- owned by Coca-Cola (KO) -- offers a 20-ounce bottle of fruit punch that has HFCS as the second largest ingredient and contains 71 grams of sugar.
The chances are fairly slim that you'd encounter GMOs when dealing strictly with grains (other than corn) in their natural grainy state. But when you're eating cereals, especially those made for children, there's much more than just grains in your bowl. General Mills' (GIS) Honey Nut Cheerios -- America's top-selling brand -- has sugar and corn starch listed as two of the top three ingredients -- both likely to contain GMOs.
Vegetable oil can be made from several different plants. Some of the most popular are corn, soy, and cottonseed. All three of these crops -- when sourced from the United States -- have a greater than 88 percent chance of being GMOs, according to the Non-GMO Project. Canola oil's parent plant -- the unfortunately named rapeseed -- is also highly likely to be a GMO, as 90 percent of all rapeseed plants from the United States come from GM seeds.
It's a favorite of vegetarians, vegans and other healthy-eating enthusiasts for its high protein content, but the main ingredient in tofu is soy milk, and the vast majority of soybeans from America -- 94 percent -- are GMOs.
We aren't at the point yet where scientists have begun to genetically modify livestock the same way that they have with plants. (Though there was a now-defunct GMO experiment involving pigs dubbed the Enviropig.) But as the saying goes, "You are what you eat." If we take that to heart, then we might view most livestock as simply large GMO consolidators. The main ingredient in the diet of many forms of livestock is corn feed, which usually contains GMO varieties.
Until agribusinesses start genetically modifying the cows, it might feel like a stretch to think of their milk as a GMO product. But since GMO corn feed is the main source of nutrition for dairy cows, consumers should know that GMOs are dominant in the food chain that eventually ends with the milk in your refrigerator, the IRT says.
No type of food is more likely to introduce GMOs into your system than soda. Though our soda consumption has declined, it's still the fourth most popular type of food/drink in the United States. These drinks are pumped full of sugar or -- far more often -- HFCS. And as you know by now, that means they're virtually guaranteed to contain GMO ingredients.
Of course, if any one of these products are marked "USDA Organic" or "Non-GMO," then you know for sure that GMOs aren't present. However, you usually have to pay a premium for such products. For instance, a gallon of standard whole milk runs around $3.29, but its organic counterpart can cost as much as $6.99.
In the end, it's up to each person to determine how important -- if at all -- avoiding GMOs is, and how much you are willing to spend to avoid them.