From Crisis to Triumph: How Chipotle Saved Its Business

Read about Chipotle’s recent food safety scandal and how crisis communications came in handy for them, as told by the IC PRSSA Blog Team.

By: Alexandra Rose

Chipotle is not only known to be fast and affordable, but also healthy. For example, Chipotle makes burrito bowls filled with fresh, non-processed ingredients and uses meat free of antibiotics and hormones. That is why it was shocking and slightly ironic that Chipotle’s downfall in its reputation had to do with issues of food safety. Starting in August 2015, the company made headlines not for an innovative new menu item, such as a Sushi burrito, but for a plethora of serious foodborne illnesses. Norovirus, tomatoes tainted with salmonella, life threatening E.coli outbreak, yuck! If this had happened at McDonalds or any other “unhealthy” food franchises, it probably wouldn’t have been as reputation damaging, as those places already are known to be somewhat of a health risk. However, Chipotle, a place that prides itself on having better food ethics than other fast food options, is held to a higher standard. This pedestal that Chipotle was put on is precisely why this crisis was so damaging.


Inconsistent messaging + hypocritical actions = not a good result.

If Chipotle wanted to save its business, it had to be very careful about how it went about rebuilding its reputation. Instead of being secretive and making excuses about its actions, Chipotle was transparent with its consumers throughout the entire process. On February 8th, Chipotle shut down all of its 1500 locations for 4 hours so it could inform employees of the extra steps it was taking to make the food safer. This was a good start, as consumers knew that the company cared more about its well-being than serving them a potentially dangerous burrito. However, the company had a long way to go before gaining customers’ trust back.


The most important thing for Chipotle was that consumers knew their meals were safe; therefore, Chipotle had to remodel its food safety measures. On its website, Chipotle has a detailed section dedicated to food safety, giving concise yet in-depth information about each food safety measure. This is evidence of the company’s message that it was trying to gain back trust. What can we learn from Chipotle’s reputation crisis? That transparency, quick problem solving, and effective communication of new safety protocol measures are vital in the area of crisis communications. Thanks to Chipotle’s PR team, I now feel better about eating their beloved burrito bowls again.




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