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Towards Local and Regional Sourcing - Sysco and Chipotle

Chipotle and Sysco present their local/regional food buying policies. practices and goals.


Scaling up Good Food requires increasing the capacity of growers, to be sure, but there must be buyers lined up to get the food to the eaters. The two companies featured on this webinar, Chipotle and Sysco, are very large buyers, and are committed to increasing their local and regional buying.

Our presenting companies are in very different sectors: Chipotle is a "fast casual" restaurant chain with over 1000 locations; Sysco is the largest food service distributor in North America.

  • Has their experience moving towards local and regional food been similar, or are there notable differences?
  • What is their corporate motivation to alter their buying?
  • What have they accomplished so far, and what challenges have they encountered?
  • What are their plans for future expansion of these programs?
  • According to our presenters, how can you best help to enable these (and other) buyers to increase their purchasing of Good Food?

Each of the companies' representatives answer these questions and more, including many attendee questions toward the end of the webinar.

We are all working to scale up Good Food, and here is where the rubber meets the road. Watch this special NGFN webinar.



Recorded Webinar




Presenter's slides (pdf)


Presenter Bios

Heidi Wederquist

Heidi WederquistAs Director of Quality Assurance and Food Safety for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Wederquist works with Chipotle’s food suppliers to help assure quality and food safety at each point within the supply chain.  She also oversees the Local Produce program.

Before joining Chipotle, Wederquist served as Director of Foodservice Marketing for Swift, where she worked with restaurants and foodservice companies to develop new beef and pork products. Prior to this position, Wederquist was the Director of Brand Development for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, where she worked to increase beef demand and value for cattle producers by marketing chuck and round value cuts in foodservice and retail. She began her career working for Sara Lee in various positions in both Foodservice Marketing and Research & Development.

Wederquist was raised in a farming family in Colorado and is passionate about food quality and about the importance of sustaining family farms. She is a graduate of Colorado State University where she earned a Master’s degree in Animal Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science.

Craig Watson

Craig WatsonCraig Watson is Vice President of Agricultural Sustainability for SYSCO Corporation.  Mr. Watson received his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science (1974) and his Master of Science in Meat Science (1976) from Iowa State University.  Most of Mr. Watson’s career was spent leading the Quality Assurance department into what it is today.    The Sysco Quality Assurance team is responsible for product development, global supplier approval, and the development and implementation of quality systems to ensure product consistency and food safety of approved sources of supply.  Most recently, Mr. Watson’s responsibilities have moved into the area of agricultural sustainability.  Areas of sustainable focus include seafood sustainability, life cycle assessment, global social audit review, integrated pest management, and local food procurement from small/medium sized family farms. 

Denis Jennisch

Denis JennischDenis Jennisch is the Produce Category Manager for Sysco Food Service of Grand Rapids, MI. He has 36 years of  Retail / Wholesale / Foodservice experience.  He has worn many hats in the food system, and as such has had experience in Sales, Merchandising, Procurement and Warehousing. His current responsibilities at Sysco include overseeing profit & loss, procurement, receiving, warehousing, inventory levels, marketing, and supplier / product decisions of the produce category. Denis is actively involved with projects across the state to educate, support, advance, and distribute Michigan products . And I’m extremely proud to say that he is a valuable member of the advisory board of the National Good Food Network.


Chipotle's Answers to Some Extra Questions

Heidi Wederquist took some time to answer some of the questions that were submitted by attendees, but we ran out of time to address. Thank you Heidi!

Q: Does SYSCO or Chipotle require "kick backs" from the grower or farmer in order to do business with them?   
No, Chipotle does not.

Q: What defines a mid-sized family farm?  Acreage? Production?
Since some crops are more land and labor intensive than others, a “mid-sized” farm is really on a case-by-case basis for Chipotle.  We prefer working with farms that are family owned and operated day-to-day by family members. We like the idea of helping to sustain family farms, and we appreciate their stewardship of the land and the environment. 
However, just because a farm is small or mid-sized and family owned doesn’t mean it meets our standards. That’s why we spend a lot of time meeting and speaking with each of our suppliers to ensure we’re all on the same page. We also like putting a face to the name - and a face to the farm.

Q: How do you determine "Fresh"? Many companies marketing fresh produce isn't actually RIPE when I eat it or see it sourced for institutions.
Chipotle has quality and food safety specifications for fresh produce items that must be met by all growers and suppliers; no matter their size.  By consolidating shipments at our produce houses, we are able to check the quality of the incoming fresh produce items.

Q: Do they consider their supply chain to be a value chain?
Chipotle places a high priority on knowing where our food comes from and having a direct relationship with the growers and farmers that produce our food.  Because we have specific requirements that differentiate most of our food (naturally raised meats, pastured dairy, organic beans) it is also our goal to contribute to building a sustainable food system that creates more value for all involved. 

Q: I'm sure there is a lot more time involved in setting up the relationships and support for farmers.  How have you been able to justify this additional expense? 
We already spend more for our food across the board – when compared to other restaurants in our segment.  For Chipotle, the quality, freshness and sustainability of our food is a priority and well worth the investment to develop relationships with local growers.  And once we have growers set up to meet our food safety and quality requirements, we try to work with these same growers year after year. The costs are lower to maintain the relationships on an ongoing basis. Also, we are able to save some transportation costs since the produce is not shipped as far.  

Q: Do you already, or have you considered sourcing or distributing local produce off-season that has been co-packed/frozen in place of shipping produce in from out of the region?
Our primary local fresh produce items - such as Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, fresh bell and jalapeno peppers, red onions, oregano and cilantro – would not have the same quality if previously frozen.

Q: Do you work with further processing facilities?  For example, grated cabbage and carrots that may have been seconds?
Chipotle’s primary local produce items are all washed and prepped in our restaurants.

Q: Can you elaborate on 'training and investing in a grower to become competitive'? Does this mean contract? Expectation that prices and/or growing practices will change?
Chipotle works with local produce growers to make sure that they meet our food safety and quality requirements (which include a 3rd party GAP audit).  For growers that do not meet the basic requirements, we encourage them to work with various resources that are available for food safety and GAP audit preparation.  Once a grower is approved to supply Chipotle, we work with each grower individually on price and anticipated volume.

Q: What's the name of the company that helps with order management from local producers?
Danaco Solutions helps us manage our fresh produce program

Q: Local does not necessarily equal sustainable. Does Chipotle have a sustainability position, and how does that relate to local foods?
Chipotle is constantly working to find better, more sustainable sources of food.  For example, 40% of our black and pinto beans are grown organically.  And while organic is great, it’s not always appropriate for the food we serve. Sometimes we can find farmers who focus on responsible or sustainable practices but aren’t certified organic. We make that call market-by-market, ingredient-by-ingredient, always keeping the big picture in mind.  For example, soil erosion is a major issue for bean farmers in the Pacific Northwest. So we are working to include a percentage of our beans next year from farmers in this region that are using conservation tillage to preserve topsoil and minimize fuel and chemical inputs.

Q: In sourcing ABF [antibiotic free] chicken, what definition of ABF do you use? Are your chicken growers 3rd-party certified for ABF? Also: do you have trouble acquiring adequate supplies of ABF chicken?
Our ABF program is “never, ever”, so our naturally raised chickens must never be given antibiotics at any stage of their life.  However, if they become ill, then they must be treated and removed from the program.  Our chicken growers must sign affidavits certifying that they follow Chipotle’s protocols for antibiotic free, and all-vegetarian feed (no animal by-products).  We also perform our own audits of our growers’ facilities and feed mills.
The supply of ABF chicken is challenging.  We are always looking for the next improvement in animal welfare as well as quality, so we are working with some of our suppliers to source local and pasture-raised chicken.  The chicken does need to be processed in USDA inspected facilities that meet our standards for quality and food safety.  Finding local and pastured chicken in areas with qualified processing plants can be a challenge.  Unfortunately, much of the community-based or regional slaughter infrastructure has been lost over the years as agriculture has become more consolidated, so we are doing what we can to help support existing local programs and encourage growth in that area. 

Q: Does Chipotle purchase grass-fed and finished beef? If so, how does it re-educate its customers and chefs given that grass-fed beef tastes different than typical corn-fed beef?
Chipotle is currently purchasing some grass-fed beef for our steak and Barbacoa. In Barbacoa, we do not see a flavor difference between grassfed and naturally raised. Our Barbacoa is slowly braised for hours, so it is always tender.  For steak preparation, we show our restaurants how to give the grassfed beef special attention on the grill, since it cooks more quickly.  

Q: Could Heidi give more specific information on how a producer begins the process of growing for Chipotle?
Our primary local produce items are red onions, oregano, bell peppers and jalapeno peppers, and romaine. We typically work with farmers or farmer cooperatives with the size/scale needed to supply at least a portion of restaurants in one our markets while in season.  It works best when the grower is able to deliver via refrigerated truck to one of our produce houses, where our produce shipments can be consolidated, checked for quality, and then delivered to our distribution centers in each area. 
We require a passing score on a 3rd party GAP audit from a recognized audit company such as Primus, NSF, etc. or from USDA. We also conduct an on-site farm visit prior to final approval to validate the food safety program.
Interested growers can email me at and we will provide additional information.

Q: Chipotle - what about sourcing local beef, pork, etc.?
We serve local pork, chicken and beef in some of our restaurants around the U.S. and in Toronto. The primary challenge that we face is finding local sources that are able to supply our restaurants year-round, and that are slaughtering/processing in USDA-inspected facilities with quality assurance and food safety programs that meet our standards.  We prohibit the use of antibiotics and added hormones we require all-vegetarian feed, and we require that farmers meet our specific animal welfare requirements. 
We are always working to find more locally raised meat suppliers that have the scale to supply a portion of our restaurants year-round.  We encourage producers that may meet these requirements to contact our Purchasing Manager, Doug George at

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