Chipotle announced on Monday that with its new U.K. pork supplier, Karro, it has brought back carnitas to 90% of its restaurants. But the Carnitas Crisis isn't over just yet: Chipotles in the Cleveland and Atlanta areas, and in North Carolina and South Carolina, are still pork-free zones.
The Denver-based burrito chain has been working to restore supply for most of 2015. The trouble began back in January, when Chipotle suspended a pork supplier that violated its animal welfare standards, which prohibit the use of antibiotics and gestation crates. As a result, the company was immediately unable to supply more than one-third of its restaurants with carnitas. By July, about 40% of our restaurants still didn't have carnitas. Today's announcement marks the winding down of a small nightmare for the chain.
The nightmare is small, because carnitas account for just 6% to 7% of entree orders at Chipotle. That's enough that the company cited the carnitas shortage for denting growth in the second quarter, when same-store sales increased 4.3%.
Overall, however, the impact is minimal compared to what it could have been if Chipotle had run into issues with its chicken or beef suppliers. Chicken is by far the most popular meat, followed by steak, reported the Associated Press.
Chipotle reinforced its commitment to its ingredients standards by pulling carnitas from menus rather than substituting in pork that didn't meet its requirements. Presumably, it would have been harder to make the same call about a meat that accounted for more than 7% of entrees.
"Yes, it's hard to find supply," spokesperson Chris Arnold told BuzzFeed News. "We have always faced some challenge in getting the ingredients we use, but have a remarkable track record overcoming those hurdles."
Even as carnitas return to Chipotle's menus, the new pork from U.K.-based Karro is slightly different from its U.S. supply. Chipotle explains on its site that while the pork they "buy from U.S. farmers comes from pigs that were never given antibiotics, Karro follows European standards that allow for antibiotics to be administered when necessary to keep an animal healthy." It goes on to say, "While we prefer to buy pork raised entirely without antibiotics, we are proud to be serving pork from Karro because the responsible way Karro uses antibiotics is consistent with their extremely high animal welfare standards."
Chipotle, which has 1,850 restaurants, has been a pioneer in fast food in terms of ingredients and animal welfare standards, which many consumers have applauded. Other chains are following suit, for example, with McDonald's and Chick-fil-A making their own commitments about antibiotics use in chicken.
Chipotle's nine-month-long incident shows, however, that when a problem arises, it can take a while to resolve it — a fact that some of fast food's larger chains must be considering too.