Supply Chain Matters has featured several streaming commentaries focused on Chipotle Mexican Grill, and on the business and supply chain impacts related to the past series of food related illnesses including E-coli, salmonella, and norovirus that date back to 2015. Finally, we have some positive and more encouraging news to share with our readers.  

Excuse the pun, but our biggest beef with the restaurant chain has consistently been its outward arrogance, and in not communicating definitive efforts to mitigate food safety concerns across the entire supply chain. Our take was one that management initially had not publicly grasped the full magnitude of its brand crisis, and supply-chain wide implications. The elephant in the room has been consumer perceptions of ongoing food safety and whether this chain had taken all necessary measures to ensure that the series of incidents that occurred in 2015 would not be repeated, at least by insuring that controlled, network-wide management and quality focused practices were being addressed.

Our observations have questioned why this company has relied solely on sales and marketing tactics to bring previous loyal patrons back. Our last update related to Chipotle in December of last year, echoed reports of building pressures on senior management manifested by continued disappointing financial performance results. Monies spent on new marketing initiatives were not resonating with loyal patrons. Employee turnover at restaurants was reported as 130 percent, defeating efforts for increased employee training on food safety measures. Declining sales and profits seemed to be defeating efforts of following through on supply chain food safety initiatives.

However, new information now encourages us.

In March, the Director of Food Safety for the restaurant chain, recruited shortly after the crisis, addressed the Food Processing Suppliers Association Annual Conference. A published April report by FoodBusinessNews.net highlights efforts that have taking place since the 2015 incidents. Dr. Dale Dexter, Manager of Food Safety Programs indicated that the company has come a long way in the past 16 months, but it was also an interesting ride.

Noted was that the food safety initiative scoured every ingredient that suppliers utilize. While previously, raw beef was brought into restaurants, two of chain’s beef suppliers are now required to practice sous-vide cooking to control food-borne risks prior to shipping to individual restaurants. Efforts were also made to initiate similar practices on raw chicken, but that effort was curtailed because the quality of taste did not pass the standards of founder Steve Ells. Chorizo sausage supplies are now subject to high pressure processing before being shipped to restaurants. For produce, two employees at individual restaurants are typically brought in two hours before opening to blanch raw fruits and vegetable in a five-second boil to kill any food borne bacteria.

Restaurants are now equipped with in-duct air purifiers and ice machine sanitation systems. A partnership with Ecolab includes food safety audits and mentioned is utilization of a Supplier Management and Traceability program. The chain has now adopted a paid sick leave policy and restaurant employees are monitored for signs of sickness, supported by a hotline of on-call nurses.

These are positive steps, and should be commended.

From our lens, communication and updates of such efforts should not only been shared at an industry forum, but broader platforms as-well including general media. Such initiatives and progress reports should have been the mission of Chipotle’s marketing and public relations efforts month ago.

This week, Chipotle announced the appointment of a Chief Restaurant Officer. Scott Boatwright was a prior senior vice president of operations at Arby’s Restaurant Group. The announcement indicates that Mr. Boatwright’s responsibilities will be- “enhancing the guest experience, developing and leading field leadership teams, developing strong teams inside the restaurants, and enhancing operational efficiency.”

There is no mention of insuring that ongoing food safety initiatives are consistently implemented and maintained across all restaurants.

Here again, a communications and mission commitment opportunity lost.

As a supply chain social medium, we are now willing to add some praise to Chipotle’s ongoing efforts to address supply chain wide food safety mitigation. But the job is never complete.

For food related industry, and for food related supply chains, marketing efforts are not only about products and services, but also about food safety efforts across the entire supply chain, including restaurants.

Bob Ferrari

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