Carnitas Is Coming Back, but Steak and Barbacoa Will Cost Extra Cheddar

Chipotle's pork shortage causes unexpected financial woes.

(Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Apr 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

The Chipotle carnitas debacle has been an emotional roller coaster for the roughly one in 20 burrito eaters who order the shredded pork filling.

In late January, it was pulled from one-third of all locations after a major supplier was found to have substandard conditions. Two days later, Chipotle announced that Niman Ranch had come to the rescue and that ethically raised pig meat was on the way. Then, in April, spokesperson Chris Arnold said there was no end in sight to the carnitas shortage.

Now, finally, a date has been set for the official end of the rolling carnitas blackouts of 2015: All stores nationwide will have carnitas by Oct. 1.

Chipotle Co-CEO Steve Ells told a group of Wall Street analysts on a Tuesday conference call that the company has officially found a pork supplier that meets its standards—which means no antibiotics, no synthetic hormones, and ample room for the hogs to move around—and that all stores would have their carnitas vats filled by the beginning of the fourth financial quarter.

Why is a group of Wall Street analysts so concerned about hog welfare? The decision to cut carnitas from the menu caused sales to drop 2 percent for the decade's fastest-growing quick-serve restaurant. But the pork shortage may not be completely to blame for the comparatively poor financial performance over the last quarter: Chipotle just isn't charging you enough for its beef.

“We are underpriced on steak right now. We’re just not charging the going rate.” Ells told Food Business News. ”We actually lose money anytime somebody comes in thinking about getting chicken and instead gets steak, for example. So, we would like to fix that.”

To "fix that" is likely going to involve a 4 to 6 percent price increase on beef items, according to Business Insider. Even though Chipotle doesn't have the same farming standards for its cattle as it does for its chicken and pork—80 to 85 percent of its beef is estimated to be "responsibly raised"—nationwide droughts have caused wholesale beef prices to rise 17 percent in the past four years.

Chipotle's clientele doesn't seem all that bothered by price hikes. In April 2014, the chain increased its prices an average of 6.5 percent, citing increasing avocado and dairy costs, but—flying under the radar—Chipotle upped its steak and barbacoa prices by 9 percent. During that financial quarter, Chipotle sales rose 17.3 percent, only 2.5 percent of which was artificially inflated because of the price increase.

So, if you can't wait for carnitas to come back, and you don't want to foot the bill for steak or barbacoa, grab a tofu Sofritas burrito—Chipotle's been pushing those really hard lately.