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Food industry, branding experts unroll Chipotle’s recent burrito of trouble

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A sign saying "we hope to be opening soon" is pictured outside a new Chipotle Mexican Grill location.

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It’s been a rough couple of months for Chipotle.

The popular chain restaurant slinging burritos made with fresh, locally grown ingredients has seen sales slump and stock prices dive in the wake of an E. coli outbreak that has seen caused several stores to temporarily close.

The company, which was trading for $760 a share at its highest in 2015, is down to about $553 a share. So far 52 people in nine states have been sickened because of the outbreak, and Chipotle has yet to put its finger on what caused it.

The issue at hand stems partially from the business model that has won Chipotle the praise of burrito-lovers nationwide. Chipotle sources fresh vegetables and antibiotic-free beef and chicken from local suppliers and cooks those ingredients in a traditional manner instead of using automation like many chain restaurants.

What customers potentially gain in freshness and farm-to-table quality, they could potentially lose in terms of safety, as many of the automated procedures that restaurants who make food en-masse normally use are not only for speeding up productivity, but also for keeping food safe from contamination.

Chipotle has tightened its supplier standards since the E. coli outbreak began, but some experts say the damage has already been done, and what remains to be seen is how well Chipotle does damage control and attempts to restore customers’ trust.

Do you still eat at Chipotle? Has the E. coli outbreak changed your opinion of Chipotle or its business model? In today’s world, can a company can produce food in mass quantities while continuing to source ingredients from local farmers and suppliers?


Craig Giammona, restaurant and food reporter at Bloomberg Business

Chris Muller, Professor of the Practice at the Boston University School of Hospitality administration and an expert on restaurant and brand management