It’s the end of the investigation and the beginning of a marketing push.
Monday brought a sigh of relief to leaders and the crisis team at Chipotle, who have been besieged with E. coli and norovirus outbreaks and a federal probe into one of its California restaurants.
Online chatter began late Sunday when The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources and reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would announce that it has closed its investigation.
The CDC said “when a restaurant serves foods with several ingredients that are mixed or cooked together and then used in multiple menu items, it can be more difficult for epidemiologic studies to identify the specific ingredient that is contaminated.”
In a statement, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold, said:
We are pleased that the CDC has concluded its investigation, and we have offered our full cooperation throughout. Over the past few months we have taken significant steps to improve the safety of all of the food we serve, and we are confident that the changes we have made mean that every item on our menu is delicious and safe.
There has been no mention of the public health crisis on Chipotle’s website, but Monday brought mixed reaction on Twitter:
Following the announcement, Mashable reported that Chipotle's stock fell from highs of nearly $800 before news of the outbreak to just more than half that as the bad press raged on. The stock surged 5 percent during midday trading Monday. (Holiday earnings are expected to be reported on Tuesday.)
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Millennials show their brand loyalty
Investors may have been rattled about the health scares and media coverage, but the crisis didn’t deter teens and young adults from frequenting the fast-food chain. Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst at NPD Group, said in a statement:
Young adults represent the largest share of Chipotle's overall traffic. Their willingness to overlook any food safety concerns to eat at Chipotle could be a result of unabashed loyalty or lack of awareness. What our research tells us is that Chipotle has a strong loyal base from which to build its business back up relatively quickly. To win back the trust of their former customers, Chipotle will need to continually communicate all of the ways in which they are preventing any future outbreaks and prove to them that they able to deliver on their “food with integrity” promise.
Consumers who bailed on Chipotle were won over by Chick-fil-A, Wendy's, Burger King and McDonald's, said Riggs.
For consumers—and employees—who need reassuring, Arnold used his PR moment to point out that all Chipotle restaurants will be closed Feb. 8th. "We are hosting a national team meeting to thank our employees for their hard work through this difficult time, discuss some of the food safety changes we are implementing and answer questions from employees," he said.
The whole enchilada
Some journalists had seized the opportunity to wordsmith the latest Chipotle news. This lede came from Seth Fiegerman at Mashable:
“The guac-pocalypse is over — at least for now.”