Chipotle is in the throes of a carnitas crisis. America’s favorite burrito chain has reportedly stopped serving pork at one-third of its more than 1,700 restaurants after suspending a supplier that violated its standards. Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, told the Associated Press that the halt on carnitas marks the first time that Chipotle has stopped serving any topping for its burritos and bowls.
Arnold told the AP that Chipotle discovered the violation on Friday through a routine audit and that “it’s hard to say” how long carnitas will be absent from affected locations. While Chipotle has not disclosed the exact nature of the violation, Arnold told Reuters that the company has strict animal-welfare expectations for its suppliers and does not allow them to use antibiotics. He added that although Chipotle could fill its pork shortfall with so-called conventionally raised pork, the company is unwilling to compromise its standards in that way.
It’s quite possible that Chipotle’s decision to pull pork from its menu—while disruptive in the short term—could end up being a smart decision. Much of Chipotle’s success to date has come from its ability to distance itself from the consumer skepticism plaguing fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell. To that end, Chipotle has embraced its “fast casual” dining label and marketed itself as a higher quality alternative to fast-food restaurants; promoting its “sustainable design” and “food with integrity” have been a key part of that. And as Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget told Yahoo! Finance, “if it had been discovered that [Chipotle] ignored an audit or some journalist did a story where they followed it and said it’s all a big sham and the pigs were being treated horrible, that would have been catastrophic.”
As devastating as this news might be to pork fans, carnitas actually make up a surprisingly small portion of Chipotle’s entree orders: 6 to 7 percent, according to the company. Chicken is the most popular order. People seemed much more upset back in March of 2014 when an annual report from Chipotle appeared to indicate that the chain would stop selling guacamole and some salsas if certain ingredients became too expensive. (Fortunately, that didn’t happen.) And anyway, while Chipotle sorts out its pork problems, it's all the more reason to try its tofu Sofritas option and earn a free burrito for when the carnitas are (hopefully) back on the menu.