We chopped Chipotle for mishandling a food safety crisis that sickened customers. Now it's time to give the Mexican fast food chain props for taking savvy steps to rebuild its reputation for "making better food accessible to everyone.”
In full-page print ads, Chipotle Founder and Co-CEO Steve Ells owns the crisis as he lays out specific ways the company will sharply improve its food handling practices.
“In 2015, we failed to live up to our own food safety standards, and in so doing, we let our customers down. At that time, I made a promise to all of our customers that we would elevate our food safety program.”
The ad lists eight “important advancements” that include improving supply chain food handling, employing new technology in prepping food, training farmers to meet stricter food safety requirements and improved in-store food handling procedures.
The list goes further, citing actions that crisis counselors often recommend – credible, validated third-party evaluations and inspections.
Ells says Chipotle managers and field leaders will need certification from a nationally recognized institution, which he added is a “first for any national restaurant chain.”
Restaurant inspections will “dramatically increase,” conducted by both Chipotle inspection teams and independent auditors.
Chipotle will implement an advanced electronic tracking system to monitor food sources and be able to trace supplies that should be removed or not accepted.
Chipotle will also create an advisory council comprised of industry experts charged with “continually reviewing procedures and providing insight into new food safety advancements.” An unsolicited suggestion, expand the advisory committee to include an online panel of Chipotle consumers and listen to their concerns, praise and ideas.
It wasn’t that long ago that Chipotle’s sharpest critics suggested scrapping the brand and starting over. Instead, Ells chose the path of weathering the storm, which has included a significant drop-off in business, and emerging with a redoubled commitment to food safety. The ads are in effect the coming out party for the Chipotle brand and its new standards.
The actions Ells laid out aren’t flashy, but they respond directly to consumer questions (and fears) about the fresh food Chipotle serves. Maybe the chain should have figured out sooner that fresh fast food has higher risks than processed food. Chipotle’s response, at least as described, appears genuine and likely to be effective in reassuring wary customers to return.
With the painful lesson that fresh food demands greater vigilance now learned, Chipotle can embark on being the brand that leads the way on both. If it does, Chipotle will have converted its crisis into an opportunity to become better than before.