On the case with the Chipotle carnitas shortage

Chipotle fans have been having a hard time lately. First comes the news that Chipotle’s delicious burritos and bowls aren’t actually all that healthy when it comes to calorie count. And now the popular chain is going on two months with a seriously limited supply of carnitas, a shredded pork shoulder that is, in a word, mouthwatering. Chipotle had to pull carnitas off the menu in 600 stores across the country after dropping a pork vendor in January, and they still haven’t found a vendor to fill in that huge supply gap. For fans of carnitas, it’s a sad state of affairs.

But! Is it necessarily a bad thing? I mean, of course it’s bad when your fave restaurant doesn’t have your fave entree on hand. But when you look at the bigger picture — the one bigger than the burrito you want to wolf down immediately — the carnitas shortage says a lot about Chipotle’s high standards and their willingness to wait as long as it takes to find a vendor that meets them. As Refinery29 points out, the carnitas shortage is kind of a good thing.

How? Well, Chipotle has made a name for themselves with some very strict guidelines for vendors. To be a Chipotle vendor, farms have to raise pigs according to Chipotle’s ground rules, which means, “a vegetarian diet, never given antibiotic, and cared for in a way that allows them to lead ‘happier, healthier lives.’” Finding a vendor who can produce the amount of pork needed to fully resupply those 600 restaurants that currently lack carnitas has proven really difficult. And although Chipotle was willing to lower their bar for beef and chicken last year, switching temporarily to ‘conventional’ meat that doesn’t meet their strict standards, they aren’t ready to temporarily throw in the towel on their pork yet.

“For many years, we’ve been operating in a system where the primary food supply doesn’t meet our standards,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Bloomberg earlier this week, and he’s not kidding.

Bloomberg goes on to discuss the market forces that make finding a vendor so difficult. The rapid growth and popularity of Chipotle, and the until-recently lack of return for farmers who did spend the extra money to raise their animals in what’s considered humane conditions has created a pretty significant gap between what Chipotle needs and what vendors can provide. The vast majority of pigs aren’t raised to meet Chipotle’s standards, in part because consumers across the board haven’t shown willingness to pay the extra money to support those practices.

So what’s the bottom line on the carnitas? It may take a while to get the goods fully stocked again at your local Chipotle, but take heart in knowing it’s for a good cause. Part of what makes Chipotle so great is the high quality ingredients that go into their food, and having to cool it on the carnitas is a fair trade to uphold those standards.

(Image via Chipotle)