Four things burrito giant refuses to serve


Sorbic acid. Calcium propionate. Butylated hydroxyanisole. Also known as preservative 200, preservative 282, antioxidant 320.

There's a "whole list of sh*t you wouldn't believe people put in food, it's f***ing shocking", according to Guzman y Gomez founder Steve Marks.

The former New York hedge fund manager, who started the Mexican chain in Newtown in 2006, has spent the last four years on a mission to make his menu "100 per cent clean", meaning "no added preservatives, no artificial flavours, no added colours and no unacceptable additives".

"Clean is the new healthy," he said.

"It doesn't matter what you eat, it has to be clean. In the US you'll have people talk about 'clean' - in Australia people are like, 'What is this guy talking about?'"

Guzman y Gomez has spent nearly four years transitioning to a ‘100 per cent clean’ menu.
Guzman y Gomez has spent nearly four years transitioning to a ‘100 per cent clean’ menu.

The $250 million business, with more than 130 restaurants internationally, says it has finally achieved that goal. "It's probably the biggest achievement we've ever had," Mr Marks said. "For me personally it's the proudest moment."

Mr Marks "went into this whole kick" in 2016 when GyG was looking at adding fries to the menu. He "started to look at fries in the market" but was surprised at the "f***ed-up" ingredients they contained.

"I remember seeing preservative 200," he said.

"I was like, 'What's that?' I couldn't believe what other people were putting in our food. Fast food has so many preservatives and additives. The last three or four years I've become an expert on additives - the more you read about it the more infuriating it gets."


Guzman y Gomez founder Steve Marks.
Guzman y Gomez founder Steve Marks.

Mr Marks brought in an independent nutritionist to conduct an audit of GyG's menu. The company then began the process of teaming up with new suppliers and working with existing ones to remove harmful additives.

Preservative 282, for example, keeps shelf life but it's "not good for you". GyG has worked with Mission to remove it from tortillas, corn chips and hard tacos, as well as antioxidant 320, which the World Health Organisation lists as "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

Other ingredients removed from the menu include artificial colour 110, aka "sunset yellow" from the dulce de leche churro sauce. Sunset yellow is among a number of artificial colours that have been linked to "adverse effect on activity and attention in children".

"These additives like sunset yellow have warning statements attached to them," Mr Marks said. "If there's any data around ingredients that have a health warning, consumer concerns or needs additional labelling to explain I don't want that in our food."

GyG initially enlisted a small supplier in rural Victoria to make its "clean" fries but they couldn't keep up with the huge demand. "A french fry should have potato, oil that's clean and beautiful seasoning that's clean," Mr Marks said.

"It took me 18 months to produce a clean fry. McCain (eventually) came to us and said, 'We're going to make you a clean fry'. The first in Australia. Just don't make it for us, make it for everyone. I want everyone selling clean fries."

According to Mr Marks, the overhaul hasn't pushed up food costs. "The cost (is) I've had to bring on so many people and so many researchers, it's been a huge financial effort to find this out," he said.

"But it's amazing. If you have great suppliers they'll come along."


• August 2016 - Preservative-free tortillas, corn chips and hard tacos: Began an in-store trial of Mission tortillas with preservative 282 (calcium propionate) removed and salt reduced.

• October 2016 - Removed preservatives and reduced salt and sugar in mojo de ajo. Also removed preservatives, and reduced salt and sugar in smoky chipotle.

• January 2017 - Churros: Removed artificial colour 110 (sunset yellow) from dulce de leche sauce.

• March 2017 - Preservative-free tortillas, corn chips and hard tacos: Reformulated tortilla to remove antioxidant 320 (butylated hydroxyanisole).

• April 2017 - Removed antioxidant 320 from chipotle mayo.

• April 2017 - Preservative-free tortillas, corn chips and hard tacos: Stores began to transition to the final preservative-free Mission tortilla.

• June 2017 - Churros: Removed palm oil and artificial flavours from churros.

• October 2017 - Cheese: Began investigating possible solutions for a preservative-free cheese, aiming to remove preservative 200 (sorbic acid).

• May 2019 - Cheese: After consulting with eight suppliers locally, two in the US and reviewing more than 30 cheeses, GyG rolled out an Australian preservative-free cheese.

• May 2019 - Worked extensively to source premium nitrate-free Australian bacon for breakfast.