late July, and 3.1 million of them, just over half, are eating at Chipotle at least once a month. “I’m happy with where we are with those numbers,” Crumpacker says. Still, whatever signs of recovery Chipotle exhibits, the events of these past 12 months have revealed deep-seated issues that the brand must grapple with to ensure a bright future. The company’s food-safety direc- tor, Marsden, once told me that not knowing the exact cause of the E. coli outbreak meant the company had a chance to fx everything. While he was talking about Chipotle’s safety protocols, he could’ve meant so much more. Ells and Moran have not yet seized this moment of crisis to rethink everything about Chipotle with the kind of daring, unexpected think- ing that made it a beloved brand. Chipotle was a pioneer in introducing responsibly sourced and fresh ingredients into the world of fast food, and it deserves much credit for rejuvenating the industry and inspiring widespread change, from the big players like McDonald’s pledging to of- fer more cage-free eggs to the host of ethically conscious chains such as Beefsteak, Cava Grill, and Sweetgreen popping up around the country. What this moment offered was an opening to reinforce and even broaden its commitments to Food With Integrity (beyond a more thorough em- brace of food safety). Chipotle could still choose this course. It could publish a list of all its suppliers as a way to reassure customers, introducing radical transpar- ency to the industry. It could jump into the Fight for $15 movement, demonstrating its commitment to higher goals and to its own morale- challenged workers. What if Ells used the crisis to engage Americans in a larger conversation about the challenges of our food system and eat- ing habits? “You can’t go around here surreptitiously talking better than you’re walking,” says Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms. “How do you have integrity without accountability?” For a company that has thrived on speed and effciency, Chipotle has been slow to adapt. Its chorizo, only the second menu addition in its his- tory, was on its product road map before the crisis began. For all its talk of fresh and local food, it has not embraced seasonal meal offerings that could entice customers to visit more often. A Love Story, conceived before the crisis, did not even attempt to address Chipotle’s current reputation challenges. Chiptopia, which went into development in April, fve months after the E. coli outbreak, followed years of investor pressure to offer a rewards program. Chipotle’s brand has been pummeled to a degree that seems out of proportion to the scale of its limited food-safety outbreaks. But there’s always been an inherent risk in the company’s pursuit of a mission November 2016 FastCompany.com 99 C H I P O T L E : A S P E C I A L R E P O R T
100 FastCompany.com November 2016 as high-minded as Food With Integrity, says Crumpacker. He isn’t surprised that Chipotle experienced a more severe reputational punish- ment than Tesla or Dole after their recent crises.
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