Our Food With Integrity philosophy subjects us to risks.
The principle of Food With Integrity constitutes a significant part of our business strategy. We use a substantial amount of ingredients grown or raised with an emphasis on practices we believe to be more sustainable or responsible than some conventional practices, and we try to make our food as fresh as we can. We do, however, face challenges associated with pursuing Food With Integrity philosophy. There are higher costs and other risks associated with purchasing ingredients grown or raised with an emphasis on quality, sustainability and other responsible practices. Growth rate and weight gain can be lower for chickens, cattle and pigs that are not fed sub-therapeutic antibiotics and for cattle that are not given growth hormones. Crops grown organically or using other responsible practices can take longer to grow and crop yields can be lower. It can take longer to identify and secure relationships with suppliers that are able to meet our criteria for meat, dairy and produce ingredients. Given the costs associated with what we believe are more responsible farming practices, as well as uncertainty regarding demand due to changing customer perceptions, economic trends and other factors, many large suppliers have not found it economical to pursue business in this area. Although all of our restaurants generally serve meat from animals raised in accordance with criteria we’ve established in an effort to improve sustainability and promote animal welfare, we may experience shortages of meat meeting these criteria due to suppliers suspending production, market conditions, or other forces beyond our control. In the first quarter of 2015, through our ongoing auditing of suppliers, we identified a pork supplier that was not meeting our standards and suspended purchases of pork from this supplier. Without this supply, we did not have enough pork meeting our specifications for all of our restaurants and a large number of our restaurants were not serving carnitas for a number of months during 2015. We believe our comparable restaurant sales were adversely impacted as a result. We have experienced shortages of beef or chicken meeting our protocols on a periodic basis over the past several years as well, resulting in our serving commodity beef and chicken, which may have a negative impact on customer perceptions of our brand.
If as a result of any of the factors described above we are unable to obtain a sufficient and consistent supply of our preferred ingredients on a cost-effective basis, our food costs could increase, adversely impacting our operating margins. These factors could also cause us difficulties in aligning our brand with our Food With Integrity philosophy, which could make us less popular among our customers and cause sales to decline. Our commitment to the Food With Integrity philosophy may also leave us open to actions against us or criticism from special interest groups whose ideas regarding food issues differ from ours or who believe we should pursue different or additional goals with our Food With Integrity approach. Any adverse publicity that results from such criticism could damage our brand and adversely impact customer traffic at our restaurants. We may also face adverse publicity or liability for false advertising claims if suppliers do not adhere to all of the elements of our Food With Integrity programs, such as responsible meat protocols, requirements for organic or sustainable growing methods, our use of non-GMO ingredients in our food, and similar criteria on which we base our purchasing decisions. If any such supplier failures occur and are publicized, our reputation would be harmed and our sales may be adversely impacted. And our Food With Integrity message may result in customers holding us to a higher standard in terms of food safety as well, which may make it more difficult for us to recover from the food-borne illness incidents discussed elsewhere in this report, as customers who believe we failed to uphold our own standards may decline to return to our restaurants as frequently or at all.
Additionally, in response to increasing customer awareness and demand, some competitors have also begun to advertise their use of meats raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, dairy products from cows not treated with rBGH, and other ingredients similar to those we seek as part of our Food With Integrity philosophy. If competitors become known for using these types of higher-quality or more sustainable ingredients, it could further limit our supply of these ingredients, and may make it more difficult for us to differentiate Chipotle and our restaurants, which could adversely impact our operating results.
Our success may depend on the continued service and availability of key personnel, and upcoming changes in our management team may not provide the benefits we expect.
Our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells founded our company, has been the principal architect of our business strategy, and has led our growth from a single restaurant in 1993 to over 2,400 restaurants today. Jack Hartung, our Chief Financial Officer, has also served with us since early in our company’s history, and much of our growth has occurred under his direction as well. Additionally, Mark Crumpacker, our Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, who has played a role in our marketing and branding efforts for many years and who has been an executive officer since joining us full time in January 2009, has been instrumental in formulating strategies to help us rebuild our business. Curt Garner, who joined us as Chief Information Officer in November 2015, has had a key role in developing and executing our digital/mobile ordering platforms and strategy, and we believe these and other technology innovations will become increasingly important in helping us return to sales and profitability growth. And Scott Boatwright, who joined us as Chief Restaurant Officer in May 2017, has led our recent efforts to improve the guest experience in our restaurants, which we also believe will be critical in attracting new and lapsed customers.
In December 2017, we announced that we have initiated a search for a new Chief Executive Officer, and that Mr. Ells will transition to the role of Executive Chairman of the Board upon the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer. It may be difficult to identify and attract a Chief Executive Officer candidate who meets our needs and is able to grasp and implement our unique