NEW YORK (Reuters) – When you order from Chipotle Mexican Grill, you probably don’t think about the complex supply chain that put your food in your hands.
This is the work of Brian Niccol.
As CEO and Chairman of Chipotle, responsibility rests with Niccol when it comes to all of this logistics. But Niccol wants you to take into account the land and laborers needed to make all of this happen, because without them you won’t get this meal.
Niccol spoke to Reuters about the real and disturbing implications of the disappearance of farmers and farmland.
Q: Why do you think agriculture is in such a crisis?
A: A lot of farms are not transferred from generation to generation and a lot of farmland is lost for development. We are running a new campaign to educate people about this because we want to make sure that the land ends up in the hands of the farmers.
In the past decade alone, the United States has lost more than 20 million acres of farmland, and 400 million acres are expected to need new farmers in the years to come.
If young farmers can’t find affordable land, that just won’t happen. We want to make sure the government is aware of this, and people are aware of it because a lot of people do not even realize what is going on.
Q: The number of farmers has been declining for decades. What does this mean to you?
A: We like the idea of supporting small farmers. We want to remain committed to healthy eating, which means responsibly raised animals and organic products.
We need small farmers and we are committed to buying from them. We are also investing in them and giving them tools to deliver food on a large scale. It’s constantly on our minds, and we hold ourselves accountable for it.
Q: How do you support them specifically?
A: One of the most important things is to create long term contracts. If you give them a three or four year contract it helps them tremendously because they know they have a buyer on the other end and can invest accordingly.
The other thing we are doing is providing grants to young farmers who are starting out and need the money to plant their first crop or buy their first animals.
Q: Everyone is talking about the supply chain nightmare. Does it give you constant headaches?
A: We have a lot of good partners and have been able to buy smart in advance where we need it, to keep stock on key items. But it doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure. Between freight and labor issues, it’s a daily discussion.
Q: Are there particular menu items that are more difficult to secure than others?
A: So many items are grown and bred here in the United States, and we have a long-standing relationship with these people. We knew what to expect and didn’t encounter any real issues.
Lately, the biggest challenges have been associated with building restaurants – here you run into challenges such as accessing HVAC equipment and purchasing enough steel to make grills.
Q: How has the labor shortage affected you?
A: There is a real battle going on for the job. I’ve never seen it so tight. This is why it is really important to talk about goal.
Another part of this is that you need to have fair wages and the ability to increase those wages. We also offer perks that I really like, like debt free degrees and tuition reimbursement. We have always been a leader on the payroll and benefits front.
Q: What leadership lessons have you learned from the COVID era?
A: From a management perspective, you can’t communicate enough in times of uncertainty. You can’t be afraid to say “it works” or “it doesn’t work”.
You have to keep communication flowing. Be transparent about what you know and what you don’t know, and then ask for feedback, as it cannot be a one-way communication.
Q: What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
A: Barbacoa (beef). I love it. I get it in any way I can.
(Edited by Lauren Young)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.