February 10, 2016
Neither Chipotle Mexican Grill nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been able to identify the source of E. coli contamination that sickened 60 people after they ate in Chipotle restaurants in 14 states.
But as The New York Times reports, the company is launching a $50 million marketing campaign — its most expensive ever — in an effort to win back existing customers and communicate the steps it has taken to improve its food-safety practices.
On Monday, Chipotle closed its more than 2,000 restaurants for four hours to hold a virtual town-hall meeting, via live video feed, with its 50,000-plus employees.
“People will come back,” Steve Ells, the company’s founder and co-chief executive, told them. He announced a $10 million program for the small farmers who supply Chipotle, saying the company will bear the costs of its new food-safety system, which will require the farmers to perform more rigorous testing. Chipotle said its tomatoes will now be chopped offsite rather than in stores, and that employees will be given paid sick leave and encouraged to report ill coworkers.
But marketing experts said the company will need to do much more to regain consumer trust. Since July, the chain has experienced six food-safety failures involving norovirus, salmonella and E. coli, with more than 500 customers reporting they fell ill afterward.
As part of its new marketing push, Chipotle hung signs in store windows on Monday inviting customers to text the company for a free burrito. — Greg Beaubien