Tuesday is National Taco Day in America, which a year ago may have meant a trip to Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) for many food lovers. But these days, some might be wondering if the Tex-Mex fast food chain is a safe place to eat.
Chipotle debuted its new chorizo tacos Tuesday in locations nationwide, just in time for the big holiday. However, the promotional release might have less to do with National Taco Day and more to do with the restaurant chain's continued efforts to overcome the public relations disaster caused by multiple food-safety scares last year.
Starting in July 2015, a series of food sickness cases caused by E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that affected various Chipotle locations, which were making national headlines by November, caused many Chipotle customers to second guess their weekly burrito bowl trips for lunch.
The chain still faces an uphill battle months later. In a survey released in April by location intelligence company Foursquare, "same-store foot traffic was down 23 percent" and "loyal customers were 50 percent more likely to stop going after the E. coli scare," at about 1,900 U.S. locations from the time the company announced its fourth quarter on Dec. 31, 2015. Meanwhile, the Denver-based company's price of shares fell from $749 in August 2015 to as low as $413 in January. On Monday, shares of Chipotle closed at $430.87.
Chipotle is fighting hard to turn things around. The company has instituted extensive safety measures to prevent a future scare, including mandating employees wash their hands every 18 minutes.
They have also undergone a massive public relations campaign to convince customers to come back, offering promotions such as free drinks for college kids and introducing a new ad campaign highlighting the chain's use of locally sourced ingredients. A video of Chipotle co-CEO Steven Ells explaining the company's food safety advancements debuted on the company website in September.
"We want to get back to talking about what's built the brand, and it seems to be working," Chipotle chief creative and development officer Mark Crumpacker told Adweek. "We've seen more positive stories in the press, and we've seen more positive sentiment on social. Knock on wood, we've turned a corner in terms of sentiment toward the brand. Hopefully we're rebuilding some of the trust that's been lost."