Are Chipotle’s Public Relations Efforts Building their Brand or Breaking It?
Was Chipotle’s E. Coli outbreak in the past months a determining factor on their failure or success? Are they taking the appropriate measures to fix the problem in terms of public relations? I’m going to weigh in on the issue.
Recently, Chipotle has been under fire for their E. Coli outbreak that started last year. Since that time, about 500 people have gotten ill, and around 20 were sick enough to be hospitalized. This crisis is forcing Chipotle to contradict their original beliefs that all food should be natural and organic, hence their slogan, “food with integrity,” to begin using larger food supply chains to reduce the risks of another food borne illness outbreak. Many feel that this decision is going to fix all of Chipotle’s problems, but others feel that this is ruining their brand image by going against their beliefs that all food should be natural and rid of all chemicals that essentially drove customers to eat their products.
Stories of individuals who got sick after eating at Chipotle went viral, essentially tarnishing the Chipotle brand image. Many chains have said that their sales fell drastically, not to mention the likeability of customers.
So what exactly did Chipotle do to fix their problems? Although Chipotle ended up closing over 40 restaurants in the Northwest region, Chipotle didn’t seem too eager to apologize to the public at first. Eventually, in December, CEO and founder Steve Elles, made an appearance on a TV talk show and publically apologized to those who had gotten sick. In addition, Chipotle hired someone new to take over the company’s food safety efforts. Among these changes, less food will be prepared on site, and food will be given DNA-based testing.
On the public relations side of things, Chipotle had closed its stores for a few hours as a way to “reset.” Chipotle is also going to need to reinvent some of the ways that they do things to ensure something like this never happens again. Chipotle is also planning on launching a new Public Relations campaign intended to win back their skeptical fans.
For more information on the Chipotle crisis, visit PR Week’s article that can be found at: http://www.prweek.com/article/1383265/chips-down-chipotle-not-long
In my opinion, I think Chipotle is taking the necessary measures and precautions needed to fix this crisis that they encountered to bring back their old brand image. Being the popular and large food chain that Chipotle is, it can make it hard to overcome such obstacles like media portrayal and conflicted customer loyalty.
Although it is unclear exactly what Chipotle’s new Public Relations campaign entails, the fact that they are working on something tells me that they know what they need to do to get back to where they were. One thing that I noticed just by looking at Chipotle’s website is that they added a page that is strictly designed to inform its audience on how they are focusing more on food safety. There is even a step-by-step procedure that explains how they wash their tomatoes. As a consumer of Chipotle, this puts my mind at ease knowing that they are changing the way that they handle food and that they are taking this crisis seriously.
Chipotle’s tweets around the beginning of February (the time of their national employee meeting) in my opinion was doing its best to inform their audience and fans that they are taking food safety seriously and employees are being properly educated on food safety rules, regulations and procedures. Before this crisis happened, I don’t think Chipotle would have live-tweeted their national employee meeting just because. In my opinion this was a good move because it easily reached a large portion of their target audience and educated their consumers on changes that are going to be made. They used Twitter as a way to connect and build up their trust with their consumers.
One of the things that I find to be beneficial about the whole crisis (not that the crisis was a good thing at all) is that the outbreak only happened in the Northwest region of the United States. Chipotle has hundreds of other chains in other parts of the United States that were pretty much unaffected by the foodborne illness crisis. The new chain that just opened in Morgantown is always busy; the line is literally always wrapped around the building. Clearly, many customers disregarded the crisis and still eat at Chipotle anyway despite the risks that might be associated with it.
On a similar note, many other food restaurants and manufactures have faced foodborne illness crises in the past, many of which survived. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think Chipotle is going to come out stronger than ever.