Amid Criticisms of Fast Food, Chipotle's Success is a Sign of Optimism

By: Justin Chan

Fast food chains have taken the brunt of the blame for health problems related to obesity and unhealthy eating. Chipotle Mexican Grill, however, is probably one of the exceptions that has earned more praise than criticism. In fact, some have debated whether it should be considered a fast food chain, given its approach to preparing its products. Others have even gone so far as to compare the burrito chain's product to an iPhone.

Consider Matthew Yglesias' piece in Slate. Yglesias argues that Chipotle's success is a product of its revolutionary methods. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Chipotle reportedly opened 67 new stores, increasing its total number of chains worldwide to 1,230. The company's stock has also grown close to 500% in the past five years, and revenues grew 23.7 percent in 2011. Much of that substantial growth, Yglesias suggests, is due to the innovative minds behind Chipotle.

Food quality, according to Yglesias, has improved even though the chain provides fast-food service. Chipotle supposedly vacuum-packs its barbecued meat, which is later cooked sous-vide. Sous-vide cooking involves placing the meat in an airtight bag and then placing the bag in an immersion circulator. The circulator cooks the meat at a specific temperature, although the process can be time-consuming. Still, Yglesias says, this process allows even the most inexperienced Chipotle cooks to put the best food on the table.

In addition, Yglesias says Chipotle's management and assembly line runs efficiently. The production of rice, beans and meat takes place backstage, where each worker is responsible for one or two steps in the overall process. Though the process is nothing new in the history of food production, Yglesias says workers are often given a chance to be promoted. Many of Chipotle's salaried managers, for instance, once worked those very same jobs on their way to attaining higher-level positions.

In the eyes of the average consumer, Chipotle's production methods and management practices may not necessarily warrant extreme praise. To those like Yglesias, however, the burrito chain is on its way to becoming one of the most successful ones in the country and should be recognized for its efforts in "revolutionizing" fast food.

"As globalization continues to transform the world, the human need to eat on a regular basis is a constant," Yglesias concludes. "And as technology improves, we're still left with just 24 hours in a day. Under the circumstances, faster and better food is a great strategy for winning the future."

Photo: sun dazed 

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