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article imageChipotle fighting the good fight to regain loyal customers

By Karen Graham     Mar 15, 2016 in Business
The E. coli outbreak that nearly crushed Chipotle Mexican Grill last year is still giving the food chain headaches. Despite an ad campaign that features free food coupons to lure loyal customers back, total sales for the month of February fell 26 percent.
Since last summer, the Mexican food restaurant chain experienced a number of food safety issues, all of them linked to E. coli, norovirus or Salmonella outbreaks at various facilities. There were over 500 reported illnesses, mostly due to norovirus.
Once the darling of Wall Street for its growth and profits, the restaurant chain is now fighting hard to stay afloat, with a broad-range marketing plan that includes free coupons for burritos, Chipotle's strategy for luring back valued customers, and an extensive revamping of the company's food safety protocols.
Chipotle says it expects to lose $1 per share this quarter, reports Fortune. This is because it is spending a lot more money on its new food safety program. In February, the company shut down its 2,000+ restaurants for a few hours to have a virtual public meeting about food safety with all its 50,000 employees.
The result of that live streaming video meeting was a $10 million program that focuses on helping the company's farm suppliers to pay for new food safety measures. Chipotle president Steve Ells says the farms will also undergo more stringent testing, with this leading to safer ingredients for the company, according to Food Safety Magazine.
The free food coupon campaign is costing Chipotle around $50 million, and also includes promoting the company's new and improved food safety practices. One particularly important benefit for employees is a paid sick leave program that encourages ill employees to stay home. This was brought about with the latest norovirus outbreak that only infected employees. Other employees are also encouraged to report anyone that comes to work sick.
It is questionable as to whether a free burrito will be enough to lure the average person into Chipotle's, reports Reuters, but it is a good idea. "Chipotle needs months and months of clean bills of health before they put this in their rear view mirror," said Ashley McCown, president of Solomon McCown & Co, a crisis communications expert.
More about Chipotle Mexican Grill, food safety protocols, free food, Advertising, e coli scare
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