Dear Chipotle, Get Well Soon
Poor Chipotle. With its formerly shiny reputation and lofty goals of locally raised, happy chickens marching straight to your plate, it has become the Jack In The Box of the 2010s. As is often the case with hindsight, nobody saw this coming, but it makes sense that the poster child for locally sourced clean eating now struggles to contain the damage from multiple outbreaks of foodborne unpleasantness.
Did you catch founder Steve Ells’ full-page mea culpa appearing in many of the country’s largest newspapers today? Titled “Comprehensive Food Safety Plan,” it’s a decent dispatch that serves the purpose of apologizing, outlining some changes and reassuring king size burrito enthusiasts. Take those words however you choose.
While consumers are the intended audience, I suggest every food-based franchisor thinks carefully about what’s going on at Chipotle and sees the chaos as a cautionary tale. Rather than thinking, “Serves them right, those high-horsed jerks,” the takeaway is more important—and polite.
Transparent food sourcing and ethical practices (both for farm laborers and soon-to-be-eaten animals) is a movement that will not be stopped. These supply chain problems become much more challenging in an organization that strives for local ingredients, but soon (sooner the better?) all major restaurant chains will need to adopt some degree of Chipotle’s practices to appease discriminating customers.
You might snicker from the sidelines today, but your restaurant better be preparing to evolve its own supply chain. For brands less invested than Chipotle in trumpeting their foodie bona fides, avoid the temptation to rush it or do it on the cheap, no matter how tempting.
Marketing copy decrying your switch to "cage-free glutens" and "non-GMO salmon bellies" is easily blown up when your fancy new supply chain starts getting people sick.
Be like Jurgis and never stop saying, “I will work harder.” Everybody’s watching, you know…