operations, see “Risks Related to Our Plans to Improve Our Sales and Profitability and Restore Our Economic Model – Our expansion into international markets has been limited, and may present increased risks due to lower customer awareness of our brand… ” in Item 1A. “Risk Factors.”
Our Focus on Safe and Delicious Food Made with Better Ingredients
Focused Menu. Chipotle restaurants feature only a few entrée items: burritos, burrito bowls, tacos and salads. But because customers can choose from four different meats, tofu, two types of beans, and a variety of extras such as salsas, guacamole, queso, shredded cheese, and lettuce, there is enough variety to extend our menu to provide thousands of choices. In preparing our food, we employ classic cooking methods and use stoves and grills, pots and pans, cutting knives and other kitchen utensils, walk-in refrigerators stocked with a variety of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices, and dry goods such as rice. Our restaurants do not have microwaves or freezers. Ingredients we use include chicken, steak, carnitas (seasoned and braised pork), barbacoa (spicy braised and shredded beef), Sofritas (organic braised tofu) and vegetarian pinto and black beans. We add our rice, which is tossed with lime juice, freshly chopped cilantro, and a pinch of salt, as well as freshly shredded cheese, sour cream, lettuce, peppers and onions, to our entrees depending on each customer’s request. We use various herbs, spices and seasonings to prepare our meats and vegetables. We also serve tortilla chips seasoned with fresh lime juice and salt, with sides of guacamole, salsas, or queso. In addition to sodas, fruit and tea drinks, and organic milk, most of our restaurants also offer a selection of beer and margaritas. Our food is prepared from scratch, some in our restaurants and some with the same fresh ingredients in larger batches in commissaries.
Wholesome Food. Serving high quality food while still charging reasonable prices is critical to our purpose so that guests can enjoy wholesome food every day. We insist on preparing, cooking, and serving nutritious food made from natural ingredients and animals that are raised or grown with care and with respect for the environment. We spend time on farms and in the field to understand where our food comes from and how it is raised. Because our menu is so focused, we can concentrate on the sources of each ingredient, and this has become a cornerstone of our continuous effort to improve the food we serve. We're all about simple, fresh food without the use of artificial colors or flavors typically found in fast food—just genuine raw ingredients and their individual, delectable flavors.
In all of our Chipotle restaurants, we endeavor to serve only meats that were raised in accordance with criteria we have established in an effort to improve sustainability and promote animal welfare, and without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics or added hormones. We brand these meats as “Responsibly Raised ®.” One of our primary goals is for all of our restaurants to serve meats raised to meet our standards, but we have and will continue to face challenges in doing so. For example, some of our restaurants periodically serve conventionally raised chicken or beef from time to time due to supply constraints for our Responsibly Raised brand meats. In the future, more of our restaurants may periodically serve conventionally raised meats or stop serving one or more menu items due to additional supply constraints. When we become aware that one or more of our restaurants will serve conventionally raised meat, we clearly and specifically disclose this temporary change on signage in each affected restaurant so that customers can avoid those meats if they choose to do so.
We also seek to use more responsibly grown produce, by which we mean produce grown by suppliers whose practices conform to our priorities with respect to environmental considerations and employee welfare. Most of the beans we serve are organically grown or grown using conservation tillage methods that improve soil conditions, reduce erosion, and help preserve the environment in which the beans are grown. A portion of some of the other produce items we serve is organically grown as well. Our commitment to better ingredients also extends to the dairy products we serve. In 2017, all of the sour cream and shredded cheese served in our U.S. Chipotle restaurants was made with milk that comes from cows not given rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) and sourced from pasture-based dairies that provide an even higher standard of animal welfare by providing outdoor access for their cows.
In addition, none of the ingredients in our food (not including beverages) in U.S. Chipotle restaurants contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While the meat and poultry we serve is not genetically modified, the animals are likely fed a diet of grains containing GMOs. Due to the prevalence of GMOs in a number of important feed crops, the vast majority of the grains used as animal feed in the U.S. are genetically modified. Additionally, some of the beverages we serve are sweetened with corn-based sweeteners, which are typically made with genetically modified corn.
Close Relationships with Suppliers. Maintaining the high levels of quality and safety we expect in our restaurants depends in part on our ability to acquire high-quality, fresh ingredients and other necessary supplies that meet our specifications from reliable suppliers. Our 24 independently owned and operated regional distribution centers purchase from various suppliers we carefully select based on quality and the suppliers’ understanding of our mission. We work closely with our suppliers and seek to develop mutually beneficial long-term relationships with them. We use a mix of forward, fixed and formula pricing protocols, and our distribution centers purchase within the pricing guidelines and protocols we have established with the suppliers. We’ve also tried to increase, where practical, the number of suppliers for our ingredients, which we believe can help mitigate pricing volatility and supply shortages, and we follow industry news, trade tariffs and other issues, weather, exchange rates, foreign demand, crises and other world