Chipotle stores everywhere are currently closed for a few hours while the burrito chain holds a company-wide food safety meeting. In addition to discussing the Great E. Coli Disaster of 2015, CEO Steve Ells also just dropped this newsy bit: The company is launching a multimillion dollar initiative to ensure that, as the company tightens up its food safety protocols, it won't be leaving its long-touted pledge to support local farmers in the dust.
"It's important to us to support small and medium sized farmers whenever we can," Ells said in a portion of today's meeting that was broadcast via Periscope. "However, it may be difficult for some of our small suppliers to meet our new food safety standards, but we're there, ready to help them. That's why today I'm proud to announce the Chipotle local grower support initiative. As part of this program we're committing up to $10 million to help local growers provide Chipotle with produce and meats that meet our new food safety protocols."
Ells continued: "This $10 million will enable us to conduct sourcing produce from some of the best local growers around the country. The money will be used to provide safety support and education if necessary to meet our standards, and to help offset the cost of enhanced testing and food safety practices for some small farmers already involved in our local produce program. ... Not only will it help ensure a reliable source of fresh, safe, local produce, it will also help local suppliers be safer in everything that they do, and that means even the ingredients they sell to other companies will be safer and that's better for everybody, not just Chipotle."
While Chipotle has long been vocal about supporting local farmers, a program it launched back in 2008, it actually makes up a pretty small part of its food supply: Company spokesperson Chris Arnold told CNBC recently that locally grown produce only accounted for about 10 percent of the produce it buys, and it's only able to do so when the produce is actually in season (approximately June through October). But nonetheless, this measure may help reassure some that even if the company sickened dozens of people with its food and is now utilizing pre-shredded cheese and pre-chopped tomatoes, it's at least holding true to some of its "food with integrity" promises.
And in the meantime, if you showed up to Chipotle for lunch today only to find the doors locked up tight — or even if you didn't — the company wants to give you a gratis burrito (see, they weren't joking about that whole free food thing):
While Chipotle's stock rose a bit after the CDC announced the end of its E. coli scare last week, the company still has a very large hole to climb out of: Currently, the stock price is hovering around $444 and has fallen by more than 3 percent since the market opened this morning.