Chipotle Versus McDonald's: Why Chipotle is Kicking Ass

Why is Chipotle growing at three times the rate of McDonald's?

Because Chipotle "finds new products, new marketing themes, even a new

shop concept, Southeast Asian Grill," reports Adam Hartung in VC

blogs.com. The chain's commitment to trends and "food with integrity" is fueling

growth, a contrast to its initial investor, McDonald's, which remains committed

to speed and consistency.

Chipotle's no-hormone dairy and local meat translates to skyrocketing growth, from 16 locations in

1998 to 1100 today, with revenues doubling between 2005 and 2011.

True, McDonald's earned a 1.5 billion when Chipotle went public in 2006,

after investing $360 million in the fledgling company in 1998.And yet for the foreseeable future, says Hartung, the chain struggles to find areas for growth (partly because the company has already saturated the market.) "In its

effort to generate revenues, recently McDonald's brought us a

re-introduced 20-year-old product called McRib this October a product

whose ingredients have people asking questions about health and safety."

Has Chipotle's product really earned this loyalty? Is the nutritional value of the burrito versus, say, a Big Mac, really all that different? The burrito is on par with the Big Mac in nutritional value, reported The Atlantic Monthly last year.

The Big Mac is lower in sodium, cholesterol, sodium, and carbs, while the burrito offers more protein and the daily allowance of fiber. "Granted, it may very well be the case that,could we factor in the

preservatives, glutens, gums, and other unhealthy additives, these

results would be tempered, " wrote James McWilliams.

"Still, given our national health situation--an

increasing prevalence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol,

diabetes, obesity, and heart disease--neither the Big Mac nor the

Chipotle burrito deserves anything close to a nutritional gold star."

The McDonald's versus Chipotle argument is a fast food thread of the Paula Dean versus Anthony Bourdain debate. Or the same one characterized by New York Times' Frank Bruni as one between the "paternalists" --who can afford to shop farmers' market prices and dine in politically

correct farm-to-table restaurants-- and "populists" --who chalk up bar

food as a balanced meal and consider fries as a serving of vegetables. The paternalists, after all, might not blink when it comes to paying $5.25 to $7.25 for a vegetarian or a steak burrito. Folks who prioritize saving money will go for a Big Mac that runs about $2.99.

"Can you imagine if McDonald's bragged that it was 'using everything but the moo'?" asks McWilliams. Perhaps, he suggests, we're letting restaurants that tout sustainability off the hook.

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart