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Where's the pork? Chiptole says it finally has an answer.
The fast casual Mexican restaurant plans to soon end its self-imposed pork shortage after it found a new supplier that meets its standards for free-range pork, Chipotle founder Steve Ells told investors in a conference call Tuesday.
The carnitas crisis began in January when Chipotle suspended one of its main pork suppliers for failing to reach its standards. While meeting most of its quality requirements, which include being antibiotic and hormone free, Chipotle cited the supplier for failing to have large enough room for the pigs to move around and access to the outdoors.
So Chipotle pulled the pork and put up "Sorry, No Carnitas" signs on about 600 of its roughly 1,800 doors, turning away carnitas cravers and causing consumer frustration.
Despite the good news, some consumers in some areas may still see those signs for months. Following inspections, Chipotle plans to ramp up pork supplies over the summer and be back in full swing nationwide by fall.
But the "rolling pork blackouts" will end this month. Ells said those had caused confusion about when and where the pork was available.
Instead, it has a new strategy to maximize the pork it does have.
"We are now going to put carnitas in the places where we sell the most, and not rotate it," said spokesman Chris Arnold.
The crisis has called into question whether there simply are enough pasture-raised pigs being bred to meet the appetites of Chipotle's customers. But Chipotle is holding firm.
"Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we definitely have the will," said Arnold.
Marketing experts think this is a savvy play.
"It is far better to deliver on the brand’s core promise of ethics and quality and forego sales in the short term if there is a supply issue," said Vanderbilt University professor Steve Posavac. "When the supply chain issues are remedied, consumers’ appreciation for Chipotle standing firm on its values will likely result in dramatic sales increases."