When consumers are pleased, they may tell a few people about their experience with a store. When they are dissatisfied, you can count on that number increasing exponentially. In the case of food-borne illness, you can expect the stories to continue ad infinitum. And in the case of Chipotle Mexican Grill, you can expect social networks to salivate and dissect any news that comes from one of Millennials' favorite chains. This perfect storm has allowed the specter of its food safety scare in late 2015 to still hover above every move the company makes.
It seems Chipotle understands the unique situation it is in, and made some positive headlines when Reuters released its exclusive story on the company's two newest hires. The company brought David Acheson (yes, that David Acheson from FDA and USDA) into the fold as an advisor. Additionally, the company is said to be working with David Theno, a food safety consultant who previously worked with Jack in the Box following a deadly E. coli outbreak linked the company's food in the 1990s. The company previously hired James Marsden in March, a former meat science professor at Kansas State University, as executive director of food safety.
Chipotle has effectively assembled a dream team to address food safety. The company clearly still feels the public is interested in seeing progress on the issue despite any outbreaks since the initial stories were reported. And because the company prides itself on sourcing all-natural, local ingredients, integrating food safety protocols throughout its supply chain could be seen as a potential issue. Perhaps the company needs three top-level executives and advisors to fight the process, but some see this as problem.
"If I had to put together a dream team to fix something, you could do a lot worse,” said Don Schaffner, a food science professor at Rutgers University. But, he added: "I’ve begun to wonder a little bit about too many cooks. Each of those guys is going to have a perspective on what to do to fix the problem."
In fact, the company recently cut ties with a number of smaller suppliers. Kenter Canyon Farms, who provided oregano to the company, noted it lost business with Chipotle. River Point Farms is also reported to have taken a bigger role in supplying red onions to the chain nationally. For what it's worth, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold confirmed the company will continue to support small farms, even offering $10 million to help them meet their standards. He also noted that it may be difficult for "some of our smaller suppliers to meet our heightened food safety standards."
Chipotle, the chain focused on natural, good-for-you food, figures to focus on "safe" over "local" in the coming years.