Chipotle, once a darling of Wall Street, continues to face serious reputation issues tied to the outbreak of strains of salmonella and E. coli. In an interesting twist, it is Chipotle’s differentiating commitment to sourcing and carefully preparing the very best natural ingredients to offer “Food with Integrity” that may have led to the outbreak. Apparently, sourcing and preparing food using high-quality, raw ingredients without additives can be a risky proposition.
Chipotle’s stock has been pummeled, leading the decline during a tough first week of trading in 2016. This is despite the efforts of Steve Ellis, Chipotle’s Chairman and co-CEO, to institute stepped-up safety protocols. Nevertheless, over the past 20 years, Chipotle has earned a reputation of being a step above the Fast Food category, creating a unique Fast Casual dining experience. While Chipotle is responsibly taking a closer look at its ingredients and preparation, there are a few reputational ingredients the company must adhere to in order to rebound:
- Leadership must be unwavering in its message about its 20+ year commitment to creating a better dining experience through natural, healthier and better tasting options. This value proposition remains a valuable point of differentiation.
- Transparency is key – Chipotle must “lean in” with a higher profile about the steps the company is taking to address recent health issues and speak to the results of its improved efforts. Witness what Dominos Pizza did in its food tampering scandal, how it owned up to it in high profile TV commercials and was clear about rededicating itself to its customers.
- Engage all key stakeholders in Chipotle’s ecosystem to serve as advocates in restoring its reputation. Consider the role of employees, farmers, ranchers, suppliers and loyal customers as advocates. It’s one thing for the company to communicate, it’s quite another to have support from other constituents.
It is uncertain whether Chipotle will fully bounce back, but they certainly should not be counted out. Many other companies have faced far more serious issues and have demonstrated their resilience by following these simple reputational ingredients.