Chipotle Mexican Grill is a leader in the fast-casual restaurant space. The chain has enjoyed rapid expansion over the past several years, opening nearly 200 new locations every year. In an effort to maintain control over food quality, Chipotle does not rely on franchising as part of its growth strategy.
Focus on Food Quality
The company’s restaurants serve a menu of burritos, tacos, and burrito bowls (a burrito without the tortilla), along with salads and a few other items like quesadillas, chips and salsa, beer, and margaritas.
While very much a quick-service restaurant chain, Chipotle has successfully differentiated itself from other fast-casual brands by focusing on its distinctive customer experience and food quality. The company proudly promotes the fact that it uses organically grown produce whenever possible and that the animal products are naturally raised and antibiotic-free. Countless other upstart fast-casual chains have emulated Chipotle’s formula of efficiently serving “food with integrity.”
Food Safety First
But recent E. coli cases have caused the restaurant company some embarrassment and public relations problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 45 people have been infected after eating at Chipotle locations. It is believed that a common ingredient has caused the E. coli infections; however, the CDC has yet to determine the exact cause. Contaminated food and contaminated surfaces are usually found to be the root causes of E. coli infections.
Chipotle has taken aggressive action to make sure its restaurants are clean and the food it is serving is as safe as possible. The company temporarily closed more than 40 locations to do deep cleaning and completely replace ingredients. Chipotle also changed some food preparation procedures and provided supply chain data to investigators. The company surveyed its employees to make sure none of them had experienced symptoms of illness.
The food supply chain safety issues have resulted in Chipotle working with food safety scientists to assess all its food safety programs, including reviewing its food storage protocol and taking a close look at the farms that provide the food to its roughly 1,900 restaurants.
Restaurants Must Be Vigilant
While it is highly likely the popular chain will persevere through its food safety setbacks, the damage to the company’s reputation for serving quality food has definitely been done. The incidents highlight the need for restaurants to be vigilant when it comes to food supply chain and food storage safety.
Michael McLellan covers the business of restaurants, marketing, media, technology, and more for D&B and Hoover’s. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film program.