Chipotle Figured Out How to Win Back Customers: Give Away More Burritos

Sentiment for the chain is on the rise, according to a new survey.
Carnitas burrito. (Photo: Eric/Flickr)
Mar 4, 2016· 0 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

More than four months after Chipotle’s string of outbreaks began—sparking a series of store closures, investigations, and lawsuits—consumers appear to be returning to the burrito chain. And despite the myriad apologies and promises of food-safety overhauls made by CEO Steve Ells and other Chipotle execs, the turn around may have been sparked by something far more simple: free food.

As part of its charm offensive, Chipotle doubled the amount of free food individual locations were allowed to give away back in January. Now, a new survey of consumers conducted by William Blair, an investment banking firm, suggests the ploy worked.

“It appears that sentiment bottomed in January, with willingness to eat at Chipotle increasing after the company’s digital coupon for a free entrée spurred improved traffic in the latter half of February,” Sharon Zackfia, an analyst with William Blair, wrote in a research note.

Related: The Limits of ‘the Chipotle of ____’

The most recent survey of 800 adults—which the investment banking firm has been conducting monthly since November, when Chipotle temporarily closed more than 40 locations tied to an E. coli outbreak—“suggests that Chipotle’s recovery process has begun,” Zackfia wrote, according to CNBC.

In early February, the CDC investigation into Chipotle was closed, and the agency declared the two E. coli outbreaks over. Now, with consumers returning and stocks slowly recovering as well, Chipotle has put much of the scandal behind it. The attending lawsuits and criminal investigations resulting from the outbreak, however, remain ongoing.