It hasn't been a great 2015/2016 for Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Denver-based fast-casual restaurant chain has had to endure ferocious blowback due to an E. coli episode, including its “tone-deaf” response. Though various things have been attempted (new PR firm and free burritos) to regain the glory days, none have truly broken through as the brand continues to try to right the ship.
Adding insult to injury, Chipotle was recently unseated as the top Mexican food brand in the US by Moe’s Southwest Grill. Not only that, the company tumbled behind Taco Bell, Qdoba and Baja Fresh in an annual Harris Poll that measures sentiment about restaurant brands. Moe’s has accomplished the feat with around 650 restaurants compared to Chipotle’s more than 1,900 — and Chipotle’s sales, at stores open at least a year, fell by almost 30 per cent, according to USA Today.
Food safety issues aside, Chipotle is facing even greater product competition, with several brands taking a more adventurous approach, introducing new and limited-time offerings. Critics say that Chipotle’s decision to rarely launch new items could be a hindrance, though the big issue still lies in whether or not the food is safe.
"Their sales have been under tremendous pressure," Andrew Charles, an equity research analyst with Cowen and Co. who follows both Chipotle and Qdoba told USA Today. "Brand perception is down. In retrospect, I just don't think they did enough to convince customers that Chipotle food was safe to eat.”