Tour de Tofu: Chipotle Expands Offering to Pacific Northwest


If the second-quarter earnings report from McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) says anything about the current state of the fast food industry, it shows that the drive-thru has seen better days.

But while Ronald McDonald and his adversaries are working on rolling out new menu items designed to appeal to meat lovers worldwide, Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) is focused on charming a different crowd – and it is doing so with its own little twist on a food that is loved by many but feared by more: tofu.

That’s right: the Mexican fast food chain is adding tofu to the menu for its line of restaurants stationed throughout the West Coast called “Sofritas.” According to Chipotle and reported by Bloomberg, these Sofritas are made up of “shredded tofu braised with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos, and a blend of aromatic spices.” In addition, the tofu offered in this option is organic and not genetically modified — an increasingly important feature for consumers who are becoming more weary of the presence of genetically modified items in their food.

Health-conscious Californians, in particular, are known for their proclivity to buy food that is not only healthy but also organic — and that is why it makes sense that Sofritas were first launched in the Golden State. The tofu experiment was kicked off in seven Bay Area restaurants in February and later expanded to all of California’s Chipotle locations due to the success of the item. Bloomberg reports that the tofu option accounts for 4 to 5 percent of Chipotle sales in California, and it is ready to head up the coast.

Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and co-CEO, said during a recent earnings call, “We’re expanding the Sofritas test to include our restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this month, and we’re considering additional markets this fall, when we expect additional supply to become available of our tofu.”

Tofu, a food that boasts a solid nutritional profile but also a color and texture that scares many away, is still very much a niche ingredient in the U.S. Chipotle’s says its new dish is the perfect meat alternative for vegans, vegetarians, or the health conscious in general, but the company is confident it can take it even further.

It wants to expand the palates of its customers by pairing the meat alternative with a blend of hot spices and sauces that couldn’t repel even the most reluctant carnivores. Chipotle’s ultimate goal is to eventually ease more and more Americans across the country into the high-protein offering.

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