Foodservice Equipment Reports

Young Customers Supported Chipotle Throughout Food-Safety Issues

It is not exactly economic news, except to the employees and investors in Chipotle, but a recent NPD Group report on how the fast-casual Mexican chain’s recent food-safety problems affected traffic by demographic segment is instructive. Teens and young adults, who generate the largest share of the chain’s traffic, continued to support the chain throughout the period of negative publicity, the research group said. NPD said total visits declined 5% in the fourth quarter 2015 (compared to a 19% traffic gain in the same quarter in 2014!). Teens and young adults increased their visits, on the other hand.

“Their willingness to overlook any food-safety concerns to eat at Chipotle could be a result of unabashed loyalty or lack of awareness,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst.

As for those other not-so loyal customers, NPD said no particular chain appeared to be the clear winner, according to its receipt harvesting Checkout Tracking service. Chains with the most units, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A all seemed to benefit, NPD said.

“What our research tells us is that Chipotle has a strong loyal base from which to build its business back up relatively quickly,” Riggs said. “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.” All the free publicity they received from the general news media about their lunchtime closure February 8 will undoubtedly help.

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