The leading name in fast, casual Mexican food chains, Chipotle, recently announced its investment in Zero Acre Farms, a cultured oil startup that offers innovative alternatives to traditional cooking oils.
What is Zero Acre Farms?
Zero Acre Farms is a company that produces cultured oil, a new alternative to conventional cooking oils like vegetable oil and olive oil.
Since the production of these popular cooking oils tends to have negative environmental consequences, Zero Acre Farms developed a more sustainable process for making its own cooking oil.
How does cultured oil work?
The company’s production process starts with an oil culture, which is a collection of tiny microorganisms that create a chemical reaction similar to the ones used in the production of sourdough, alcohol, and yogurt.
The company then feeds that culture non-GMO sugar, which then ferments into fats, which are pressed to release oils that can be used for cooking. Unlike other kinds of cooking oils, Zero Farms’ cultured oil doesn’t use any harmful chemical solvents.
How does cultured oil help the planet?
Traditional oils such as vegetable oil and palm oil necessitate enormous amounts of land to grow the staple crops that eventually become cooking oils.
Estimates suggest that the cooking oil industry utilizes over 743 million acres worldwide – roughly the size of 562 million football fields – which means it is responsible for significant deforestation every year.
These stats clarify the importance of finding an alternative process to conventional oil production that has a less-severe impact on the environment. On its website, the company claims that its oil production has an environmental impact 10 times smaller than vegetable oil’s — and that it uses 99% fewer water requirements than olive oil and 85% less land than canola oil.
“We have a clear mission: to remove destructive vegetable oils from the food system,” said Jeff Nobbs, the COO and co-founder of Zero Acres. “Our dream is for everyone everywhere in the world to be able to enjoy the foods they love without destroying their health or the planet’s health. Fat makes food delicious, and delicious food doesn’t have to be unhealthy or unsustainable. There’s a better way.”
Why is Chipotle investing in Zero Acre?
In 2022, Chipotle launched Cultivate Next, a venture aimed at making early-stage investments into “strategically aligned companies that further the company’s mission to cultivate a better world,” according to the chain.
The investment in Zero Acre was announced at the same time as an investment in Local Line, a local-food sourcing platform, Restaurant Business Online reports. Both of these new companies seek to clean up the restaurant industry’s notoriously bad environmental impact, in line with Cultivate Next’s vision.
“We believe companies like Zero Acre Farms have the power to change the world,” Curt Garner, the chief technology officer for Chipotle, stated. “Similar to the way Chipotle altered the perception of fast food nearly 30 years ago, Zero Acre Farms is redefining cooking oil with healthier and more environmentally friendly offerings.”
In 2021, Chipotle announced that it would begin tethering executive bonus pay to its ESG — environmental, social, and governance goals — meaning higher-ups at the company are more encouraged to pursue opportunities to invest in companies like Zero Acre.
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