(July 8, 10:25 a.m.) Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Denver, will begin buying locally grown produce for each of its more than 730 restaurants in more than 30 states from small and midsized growers.

The localized sourcing will include 25% of at least one produce item from within 200 miles of each restaurant, including romaine lettuce, green bell and jalapeno peppers, and red onions as seasonably available.

Organic beans, avocados and herbs grown on a large scale in certain climates will not be part of the local-grown program, said Chris Arnold, public relations director for Chipotle.

“Some things, like avocados can’t be part of this program because they grow only in certain climates around the world,” he said.

Tough to find suppliers

Ann Daniels, executive director of purchasing, told the Associated Press that it has been difficult to find the right suppliers. She said the company found during testing that it would have to use growers of about 500 to 600 acres in order to ensure a reliable supply. She said smaller growers would not always be able to deliver product because they are, “less able to survive swings in weather.”

In its search, the company sought out information from distributors, local employees and the Internet to find suppliers, and then made sure each met its food safety and quality standards. Arnold said the company would be adding nearly 30 growers to its source list.

“We’re looking to ramp this up as quickly as possible,” Arnold said. “Right now there are four farms participating in the program. They are all within 120 miles of our distribution centers and we’re taking the logistical burden on ourselves rather than product being delivered by the farms.”

Holthouse Farms

Among those growers is Holthouse Farms of Ohio Inc., Willard, which will provide jala-peno peppers, romaine lettuce and green bell peppers to Chipotle restaurants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan through the restaurant’s distribution network, said Kirk Holthouse, sales manager.

“In the summertime, quite often, we don’t get some of the business because a lot of chain restaurants will be buying out of California, from farms 10 times larger than us,” Holthouse, said July 3.

Holthouse Farms normally ships around 1,000 truckloads a year, he said, and Chipotle’s orders may add an extra truckload each week.

Arnold said the three other growers in the program, who he did not identify, are in Oregon, Florida and New Jersey.

“The others are in the process of being qualified and approved to participate,” he said.

This move by Chipotle is an effort to enhance its food integrity program. Arnold said the company hopes that by collaborating with local growers the restaurants will provide fresher, better-tasting food and reduce fuel consumption for shipping.

Chipotle gives boost  to locally grown produce