In 2015, a norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, California, sickened 243, a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and Wisconsin sickened 54, E. coli sickened 60 people in 11 states (landing 22 in the hospital), and a second norovirus outbreak in Boston sickened 143. The cause? Chipotle. While the exact culprit of the E. coli and salmonella will likely never be known, the two norovirus outbreaks were caused by sick employees who came into work. The chain has since implemented several new rules and regulations in order to prevent this from happening again, but its reputation has taken a major hit.
Now that the outbreak is officially over (according to the CDC) and Chipotle has implemented new safety measures like grating cheese off-site, pre-chopping and testing some items in central kitchens, blanching produce, and increasing inspections, we asked the public what impact, if any, the foodborne illness outbreak has had on the number of times they dine at Chipotle. 450 people responded, and here are the results:
I've never eaten at Chipotle, and I'm not about to start now: 5.9%
I've cut back on dining there, but haven't completely stopped: 6.8%
I held off during the outbreak, but will start eating there again now that it's over: 13.8%
It didn't affect my Chipotle addiction at all: 21.8%
I've stopped dining there completely: 46.5%
These results are pretty surprising, and should have Chipotle quaking in its boots. Nearly half of all respondents have sworn off Chipotle completely, while only a relatively small percentage is planning on returning at all! At the other end of the spectrum, however, more than 20 percent of respondents remained loyal throughout the outbreak, food poisoning risk be damned. These loyalists weren’t enough to fend off a major drop in sales, however.
Chipotle has spent millions of dollars trying to woo customers back, and will continue to spend more, and the chain is confident that this plan will work. But if nearly half of its customer base swears the chain off for good, can it ever really recover?