Chipotle, that fast-food-with-a-twist restaurant, has been plagued with a contamination scandal. Restaurant chains must always be careful with their food preparation, or they run the risk of infecting customers and severely hurting future profits. This is obvious. But Chipotle's plight is a different circumstance, for they are well-known to promote the idea of "food integrity" most of all. So is their progressive and feel-good, social justice approach to "millennial fast food" part of the problem?
I admit, I enjoy eating at Chipotle even if they do have expensive burritos. There isn't one close by where I live, so it's something I do maybe a few times a year. The reason I go is because I like the food, it tastes good, etc. It's most definitely not health food, and I don't go because of their mission for "food integrity", being one with the world, or whatever else they seem to promote. It's how the food tastes, which is decidedly less progressive than plenty of those who frequent the chain, as apparent by the chain's marketing focus.
According to Bloomberg Business, the following problems have tainted Chipotle's reputation in 2015:
…53 people in nine states who were sickened with the same strain of E. coli; 46 had eaten at Chipotle in the week before they fell ill. Twenty got sick enough to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In August, 234 customers and employees contracted norovirus at a Chipotle in Simi Valley, Calif., where another worker was infected. Salmonella-tainted tomatoes at 22 outlets in Minnesota sickened 64 people in August and September; nine had to be hospitalized. Norovirus struck again in late November: More than 140 Boston College students picked up the highly contagious virus from a nearby Chipotle...
Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from Chipotle food since July, according to public-health officials.
Obviously there is something occurring within the Chipotle system and among its 1,900 locations that is to blame for all this mess. If this were to happen at any restaurant chain, it would be an unfortunate thing. But it bothers me more that it's Chipotle because they spend so much time promoting a better brand of food in connection with a socially conscious life, when really, they're doing much worse than those they try to distance themselves from - the golden arches of the fast food giants.
I believe Chipotle has taken a misstep by obsessing over things which many of their customers honestly don't think of or care about. A huge part of Chipotle's problem is, according to Bloomberg Business, their dislike of a centralized kitchen structure where some of the food on their menu is prepared beforehand elsewhere, then packaged and sent to various restaurant locations. They dislike this because it would go against a main tenet of Chipotle: thinking about the supply chain. Local produce and local preparation of most ingredients has been a goal of theirs. In reality, can a restaurant business of such size survive like that, or will the inevitable happen and they be forced to tailor themselves to the competition they despise? It appears the latter will begin to occur. Founder and Co-CEO Steve Ells seems to be leaning that way, and he alluded to as much in the aforementioned Bloomberg article:
...eventually Chipotle might raise prices, and “instead of investing that in food integrity, we might have to invest that in food safety.” In the meantime, he says profits and the profit margin will be messy.
From my perspective, food safety should be #1. Food integrity can be a goal, too, but it should be on the list below the common sense and logical approach to safety above all. Millennials love Chipotle. It's so them. But even they seem to currently be steering clear of their former hangout, not because the CEO doesn't care about the environment, but because of safety. Period.
I hope Chipotle gets this contamination mess cleared up because the health of the general population is at risk, not to mention their profits. Perhaps this is a wake-up call for them to change their structure in a way which may not be as progressive and sexy, but will probably be more safe. I hope so, because I do like a $7 burrito now and then for no other reason than it tastes good.