Strategy: People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle — and it’s the chain’s biggest problem (CMG)

Strategy: People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle — and it’s the chain’s biggest problem (CMG)
Strategy: People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle — and it’s the chain’s biggest problem (CMG)

Chipotle is still recovering from its E. coli scandal

Customers still haven’t forgotten Chipotle’s food poisoning scandal more than two years later.

  • The biggest reason people say they’re eating Chipotle less frequently is a concern about food safety, according to a new UBS report.
  • The chain’s E. coli outbreaks — in which 55 people were infected after eating at Chipotle — occurred almost two and a half years ago.
  • Chipotle is struggling to attract customers who rarely or never visit the chain, with 32% saying “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.

Customers still haven’t forgotten Chipotle’s food poisoning scandal more than two years later.

Food safety concerns top the list of reasons that customers said they’re eating Chipotle less frequently, according to a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,500 people. In the report, released on Monday, 26% of respondents cited a concern about food safety as the main reason they were eating at the chain less.

In late 2015 and early 2016, 55 people were infected in two E. coli outbreaks after eating at Chipotle. While the company made major changes to its food safety policies and practices, there have been a number of food poisoning scares over the last few years.

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As a result, Chipotle’s food safety reputation is still far worse than any other fast-food chain. For comparison, roughly 15% of respondents say that food safety concerns are the main reason they are eating at McDonald’s less frequently.

Customers who rarely or never eat at Chipotle are the most likely to hold food safety concerns against the chain, with a whopping 60% of people who don’t visit the chain indicating a “significantly negative impact or a complete loss of trust in the brand.”

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“We expect marketing efforts in 2018 will focus on the less frequent consumer given continued challenges to bring those customers back,” UBS analyst Dennis Geiger wrote in the report.

Many of these efforts are expected to be centered around new ad campaigns and deals.

In March, former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol took over as Chipotle’s top executive. At Taco Bell, Niccol turned around the chain with creative ad campaigns and an emphasis on the chain’s value proposition, including its dollar menu.

Despite Chipotle’s efforts, UBS will “maintain cautious expectations” regarding the return of infrequent customers. Twenty-two percent of all respondents and 32% of those who don’t currently eat Chipotle said that “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.

UBS also found that even if the chain is able to improve its food safety reputation, there may be other issues. Most notably, people are significantly more likely to say that Chipotle’s food simply “doesn’t taste good” now, compared to 2016.

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