The nation’s third-largest U.S. chicken producer, Perdue Farms, announced yesterday that it will buy Chipotle’s biggest pork supplier, Niman Ranch.

Like all Big Food companies, Perdue knows that today’s consumers have a growing interest in natural food products and brand transparency. (Global sales of healthy food products are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017, according to Euromonitor.) By acquiring a company like Niman, which has a reputation for working with independent farmers and raising animals on pasture without the use of antibiotics, Perdue knows it can expand its customer base.

Jim Perdue, the grandson of the company’s founder and its chief executive, tells the New York Times,

“The strategy is to be the most trusted brand in premium proteins… The customers they have are in a lot of ways different than the customer we have, so it brings in an additional customer base to Perdue.”

As lovers of both Chipotle and quality meat, we just hope Niman plans to produce their product in the same all-natural way after the deal closes.

A photo posted by Niman Ranch (@niman_ranch) on

Reuters spoke to Niman’s chief marketing officer, Jeff Tripician, about the buyout, who explains that the company will stick to its standards while expanding business.

The deal “will allow us to produce more pork of our quality,” Tripician said. “Whether that goes to Chipotle or Whole Foods or Sprouts or Vitamin Cottage or the great restaurants, that’s kind of an internal issue of what’s the right way to grow.”

The Niman buyout appears to be reminiscent of when beer giant Anheuser-Busch acquired Chicago craft-beer company Goose Island. AB brought resources to Goose Island so it could brew more beer and reach more beer drinkers, while allowing Goose Island to uphold its craft quality. Since the AB buyout, Goose Island has stayed true to its roots by avoiding tactics employed by Big Beer.

Only time will tell whether Perdue’s acquisition of Niman Ranch will alter the quality and ethics of the all-natural pork producer. Both consumers and brands like Chipotle have set high standards for meat quality, so if Perdue is smart it won’t mess with Niman’s formula. Still, there is always a risk that the new owners will force changes or take more control.

And regardless of the outcome, for many people, Niman will forever be tainted by the shadow of the corporate overlords.

Now back to that carnitas burrito.

[via Reuters, NYT]