Chipotle: Communicating Food in the Face of Crisis



Chipotle Mexican Grill, a fast food chain based in the United States of America, recently faced an E.coli outbreak in their restaurants in nine different states. Out of the 52 individuals that fell ill , 47 of them reported eating at the chain before succumbing to E.coli. More information on the states and situation can be found here.

Chipotle has become a household name, known for having a very loyal brand following. Upon the outbreak, patrons and media immediately began to turn their backs on the company. The household name quickly turned to a token of reminder for the dangerous stomach bug. Angry customers took to social media to share their disappointment and disgust. Tweets ranged from saying things like “I will never eat at Chipotle again” to bashing the CEO and the company ethics. A hashtag, #chipotlecrisis, emerged on Twitter amidst the backlash. The repercussions even expanded into the company’s finances. JP Morgan, a prominent banking and analysis company, predicts that the outbreak cost the chain three years of earnings growth.

But how did Chipotle handle the crisis?

In my opinion, Chipotle is forever indebted to the PR representative who handled their crisis communication during the outbreak. They handled this massive crisis with sympathy and complete eloquence  They responded to the public almost immediately after the outbreak occurred. They took to social media and their website to address the problem head on and discuss their plans to prevent it in the future.

Social Media

Chipotle very quickly addressed the outbreak on their twitter. They actively addressed the issue and took full responsibility. Not only was their response quick but it also had the perfect tone. Again…Chipotle needs to endlessly thank their PR representatives. They kept the response very apologetic but also upbeat and hopeful. They took full responsibility and showed sincere regret while still standing behind their brand and staying positive. I think we could all use a lesson from the person behind this! It is nearly impossible to stay positive during a serious apology without seeming insincere, but they truly pulled it off. In addition to the initial response, their social media has continued to impress me. They have continued to post their usual witty banter while regularly posting updates in regards to the crisis. An impressive feat of carrying out their branding while in the midst of chaos. They even held a conference for employees across the nation to discuss their ideas and thoughts. They live tweeted the event and had a live feed for people to follow along.

Future Steps

Chipotle issued a formal apology and released a statement about their plans to take “aggressive steps” to solve the problem. Steve Ells, the Chipotle founder, released a letter on their website apologizing and detailing a comprehensive food safety plan to combat the problem and prevent it from occurring again in the future. Again, the letter’s tone was genuine, apologetic and hopeful. In addition, to the letter the website posted the food safety plan in immense detail with eye-catching and quirky aesthetics. You can find the entire food safety plan here. They have made it clear that these changes are in it for the long haul, not just a short-term response tactic. 

Overall, Chipotle has been very transparent and proactive in their response to the situation. A widespread E.coli outbreak is one of the worst things that can happen to a food company. But well done Chipotle! You handled it with impressive grace.



P.S. If you are looking for another article about Chipotle’s response from a PR standpoint check out this post from PR News!



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