Before the outbreak of E.coli in Chipotle restaurants in October 2015, the chain left such a satisfying taste in its customers’ mouths that the only cohesive complaint was shared through the t-shirt design and Facebook group saying, “Yes Chipotle, I know guac is extra.”
Profits Tank from Putrid Tomatoes
From the University of Denver, students looking out the western-facing windows of Anderson Academic Commons can watch the sunset over the Rockies and the first-ever Chipotle, usually with a line out the door. Fall quarter ended and winter quarter began without a line streaming out of the shop: $1.95 for guacamole may have been doable for Denver citizens, but biting into E.coli apparently wasn’t. Citizens across the US alike have avoided the fast-casual Mexican chain following months of E.coli reports, resulting from bad tomatoes.
On February 2, Chipotle published a press release detailing their loss in profits during the fourth quarter of 2015 and the end of the CDC’s investigation against the restaurants. During 2015’s final quarter, revenue decreased 6.8% and net income decreased 44% compared to Q4 of 2014.
Weeks before announcing the end of the CDC investigation, Chipotle published new food safety and regulation initiatives, including new high-resolution DNA testing of ingredients, paid sick leave for ill employees, in-store vegetable and meat preparation and more thorough employee training. Along with bacteria-free burritos, the Denver-based restaurant buttered up clean-eating customers and farmers by pledging a $10 million donation to local farmers.
This $10 million dollar investment eased the mind of Kelsi Krakauer, working toward a BS in Biology, who said that a “lack of on-farm control strategies could easily lead to [an E.coli] outbreak.” Krakauer studied bodily manifestations of bacteria from contaminated food and water while studying in Cape Town, South Africa last fall.
Apologetic and Absent
Chipotle’s Public Relations team has not answered multiple information inquiries or tweets regarding how they plan to win back customers.
“The fact that anyone has become ill after eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry… Throughout our supply chain we are implementing high-resolution sampling and testing of many of our ingredients to prevent contaminants, including E.coli, from getting into our restaurants. We are also working with our supplier partners to further enhance their food safety procedures.” – Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle
Still walking on eggshells with the public, the burrito bar made up for their nationally executed close on February 8th for 4-hour employee training by offering free burrito coupons to anyone willing to text, “RAINCHECK” to 888-222 for a limited time only.
This was the icing on the cake for some loyal customers. “These new safety procedures make me confident in Chipotle’s food again and I was happy to get a free burrito to make-up for months of bad news surrounding [Chipotle]” says Hadley Barlow, a junior studying Biology.
To others, the coupon never came, unlike further disappointment in the company. Meghan Mendez, DU Communications major, is more skeptical about the company after having texted the coupon code to receive her free burrito without any response: “I tried to trust Chipotle again, but I, as a customer, was ignored even after complaining. This is not the Chipotle I know, I’m so disappointed that they let people be infected with E.coli, then failed at making up for their mistakes”. Other customers have had the same problem, leading many to be further annoyed at the chain, taking their anger out over Twitter.
Employees at Chipotle’s first restaurant were unable to comment on the possible lack of free-burrito supplies, the new safety regulations or their thoughts on customer satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction.
With some customers right back in line and others increasingly angry, Chipotle, a Mexican-food mogul in the midst of a crisis comeback, is in hot water, still trying to turn down the boil.