April 26, 2017

Steve Ells, Founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Turned Sustainability into a Brand Differentiator


Steve Ells, founder, CEO and Chairman of Chipotle Mexican Grill, On Sustainability Branding

Steve Ells, founder, CEO and Chairman of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), proved sustainability can be translated into sales.

Born in Indianopolis in 1966, Ells presently lives in Denver, Colorado. According to Forbes, his current net worth is approximately over $200 million.

How Chipotle Got Started

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Ells worked as a sous chef at Stars Restaurant.

At 28, he approached his father for a loan to open a burrito shop in Denver. And that’s how the Chipotle story began.

Within six months, Chipotle was selling more than its daily-required number of burritos to break even. Using the profits from his first restaurant, Ells set up a second restaurant.

Today there are more than 1,200 Chipotle locations in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Building a Brand Around Sustainability

Under Ells, Chipotle has committed itself to sustainable sourcing.

In 2000, Chipotle introduced its menu featuring naturally-raised pork.

In 2001, the company issued its mission statement called Food with Integrity. With the new mission statement in place, Chipotle bgan a process of using more organic produce, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and pasture-based dairy.

Today, 100 percent of the beef and chicken served at Chipotle is naturally raised.

Lessons in Sustainability Branding for Small Businesses

Chipotle’s sustainable approach has helped it strike a chord with younger consumers who consider the brand’s values important.

Speaking on the brand’s appeal to this group, Ells said, “We believe that our popularity among these younger consumers is tied to our vision and the growing interest in issues related to food and how it is raised. Our own research shows that these issues are clearly becoming more relevant and important when customers choose where they will dine.”

It’s interesting to see how Ells turned sustainability branding into a differentiator to target a new generation of consumers. Chipotle’s transparency and commitment to offer sustainably sourced food has given it a definite edge over competitors.

Image: Small Business Trends

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Shubhomita Bose


Shubhomita Bose Shubhomita Bose is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. She covers key studies and surveys about the small business market, along with general small business news. She draws on 8 years of experience in copywriting, marketing and communications, having worked extensively on creating content for small and medium sized enterprises.

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