Home / Chipotle: Is the public willing to stay faithful after norovirus outbreak scandal?  
Image of Chipotle: Is the public willing to stay faithful after norovirus outbreak scandal?

When you promise fresh, ethically grown and sourced food to the masses, your supply chain becomes more complex. And more complexity means more risk. As a formerly faithful customer of Chipotle, I admit that this most recent norovirus scandal should not be blamed directly on the Chipotle business itself, but rather, of their methods for food sourcing. By promising "food with integrity," by "sourcing the very best ingredients, and preparing them by hand," and by obtaining "vegetables grown in healthy soil, and pork from pigs allowed to freely root and roam outdoors or in deeply bedded barns," these sound like an awful lot of promises and challenges to provide on a nation-wide scale. For a mom-and-pop restaurant with a tight control on food sanitation, freshly sourced food is often always a delight and a luxury. But for a national chain? I can only imagine the nightmare due to the complexity of food sanitation.

That being said, Chipotle is still one of my favorite fast-casual places to go to. But, there are many other options available with equally fresh food without the stigma of a possible norovirus or E.coli infection. I guess you could say my faith was shaken. Time will tell if the public's faith has been, or not.

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First of all, damn Wired and it's anti-adblock pop-up. No way will I turn off my ad blocker when a site does crap like that. Like they really think we can't get around it with an anti-adblock killer? Please bitch...

(Gains composure.)

“The more complicated your supply chain is, the more opportunity you have to introduce problems,” says Melinda Wilkins, director of the online master of science in food safety at Michigan State University. “[Chipotle’s] food sourcing is a laudable effort—and it’s what customers want. But they’re probably walking a fine line between offering fresh, local ingredients and decentralized food preparation and the risk of introducing foodborne pathogens because it is such a complicated food chain.”

Sure, the more complicated you make anything, the more opportunities there are for problems. But it's not a fine line. You need specific controls, policies, procedures, technologies, etc. to make it work but it's very workable. Let's not forget that Chipotle has been around since 1993 and these recent health scares are just that - recent. Statistically, this is a small blip in their 20+ year history no matter how much fear mongering the media throws at it.

Additionally, let's not forget that the government (specifically the FDA but I'm sure there are plenty of other agencies involved) has all sorts of laws, rules, certifications, and monitoring of the food supply. In fact, it leads me to wonder if the problems occurred because Chipotle relied on government instead of its own controls, policies, procedures, and technologies. If the government wasn't involved at all in the supply chain, yes, I'd agree the blame lies solely with Chipotle. However, as the government sticks its nose so deeply into the supply chain, I would bet that the problems occurred because the government certified some part of the process and Chipotle accepted it as-is. One should never trust the government.

Chipotle has great products and I will continue to buy from them. My biggest complaint is that their steak is usually fatty/chewy (not to mention that I gain 3 pounds after eating a burrito).

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Follow-up: "The world needs another burger  chain as much as another norovirus-laden burrito." YES, this. Don't get desperate, Chipotle.

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One guy's opinion that can be summarized as "Because enough time hasn't passed in my opinion for Chipotle since the supply chain problems, I'm going to ignore their decades of success in creating a brand and products that people love by scaring people about lost sales and reduced market capitalization while asserting anything they do outside of making people feel safe is misguided."

If Chipotle can’t ensure food safety with burritos, why branch out to burgers?

Last, year, America’s 51,647 fast food hamburger concepts generated nearly $77 billion in revenue – 385 percent more than the $20 billion revenues of quick-service (QSR) Mexican concepts (and, incidentally, double the $38 billion U.S. pizza industry’s revenue; another foodservice category set its eyes on – but more on that later).

I'll tell you why: because a well-managed company doesn't rest on its laurels, doesn't allow a problem to discourage it from growth, and a $77 billion category for unhealthy food (with "over $60 billion... captured by “The Big Five” – McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic and Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s. Together") is ripe (pun intended) to be destroyed by a healthier provider. I can imagine the author and "Global Restaurant Consultant" Aaron Allen teaching his child to ride a bike: she gets on, successfully rides around the block 20 times, falls because one of her tires has a blow-out (defect from rubber supplier), gets bloody/bruised up, and her father tells her to take a year off before she tries again. Or perhaps more comparable to Chipotle's scenario, she's a grown-up and been riding a bike successfully for 20+ years without incident, falls, etc.

Chipotle has a greater obligation and responsibility to fix food safety first, before indulging on planting growth seeds or embarking on new "management distractions."

Believe it or not, even during a crisis like food poisoning, good managers are able to effectively multitask, assess, delegate, monitor, perform, and control (as differentiated from good leadership and the respective benefits that come from failures and crises). Managing and directing multiple priorities at once might be distracting for less capable managers but unlikely for the ones that made Chipotle such an enormous success. You take your eyes off growth and, very soon, you'll find someone else eating your lunch (pun intended). If I was in the global restaurant business, I sure wouldn't want this guy who specializes "in growth strategy, marketing, branding, design and concept development" consulting for me.

Now Chipotle wants to swoop in with a trademark attorney and grab the legal rights to a phrase others coined?

This is actually the only part of his opinion with which I agree. But this is not a problem caused by Chipotle - it's caused by the morally corrupt legal industry. Don't get me started...

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