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Chipotle CFO: 'When we do plant-based, it's gonna be real plants'

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) may have served up a blowout earnings report for the fourth quarter despite rising costs, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the burrito chain to add fake meat to its menu.

While rival chains including McDonald’s (MCD), Burger King (QSR), Denny’s (DENN), and Red Robin (RRGB) have all rushed to cash in on the plant-based protein craze, inking deals with meat substitute leaders Beyond Meat (BYND) and Impossible Foods, Chipotle is sticking to its simple menu items that use only 51 ingredients.

“When we do plant-based, it’s gonna be real plants,” Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung tells Yahoo Finance’s “The First Trade.” 

It’s a dig at Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which both use highly processed plant-based ingredients. Beyond Meat’s main ingredient is pea protein, while Impossible Foods uses genetically modified soy to give its meatless offerings the consistency and taste of real meat.

An Impossible Whopper burger is photographed at a Burger King restaurant in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Chipotle currently does all of its culinary development of new products in-house. 

“You’re going to see produce like super greens, you’re going to see peppers – we have to heat up peppers on our line.” says Hartung. “I would not expect to see any kind of, you know, where you take plants and then you process the ingredients, then turn it into something like a ground beef or a burger or something like that.”

Last year Chipotle added a vegan bowl and a vegetarian bowl to its menu, which features sofritas made from tofu. 

Hartung says when the chain adds plant-based foods it will only use  “real whole ingredients,” in keeping with the chain’s “food with integrity” motto.

“We’re going to apply culinary techniques and we’re going to serve a delicious meal, but it’s gonna be recognizable ingredients,” says Hartung.

Alexis Christoforous is co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Watch The First Trade each day here at 9:00 a.m. ET or on Verizon FIOS channel 604. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.

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