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Teens Stayed Loyal to Chipotle During Its E. Coli Outbreak

February 1, 2016, 4:05 PM UTC
A Chipotle restaurant sign is seen in Manhattan on September 11, 2015 in New York. Chipotle's 1,850 restaurants spent September 9, 2015 in a cram effort to hire 4,000 new workers to staff a rapid expansion, as it adds 200 more outlets this year. Built on a pitch of fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients for its burrito wraps and tacos, the thriving US chain is making clear it is not ready to ease up on expansion plans. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Kena Betancur — AFP/Getty Images

On a day when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to declare the end of an E. coli outbreak that dented Chipotle Mexican Grill’s sales and stock price, the burrito purveyor is getting even more good news. Teens remained a very loyal group of customers even as negative headlines dissuaded others from visiting.

Market research firm NPD Group on Monday reported that while total visits to Chipotle (CMG) dropped 5% during the final three months of 2015 from the prior-year period (when visits jumped 19%), young adults stayed loyal to the fast-casual chain. Teens and young adults actually increased their visits by double-digits last year.

“Young adults represent the largest share of Chipotle’s overall traffic,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst. “Their willingness to overlook any food safety concerns to eat at Chipotle could be a result of unabashed loyalty or lack of awareness.”

Chipotle has been battling bad press on the issue of food safety since October, when a handful of restaurants were closed in Oregon and Washington due to an E. coli outbreak. It later expanded to nine states, with various updates by the CDC dragging out in the press. Sales trends during the final quarter of 2015 were “extremely volatile,” Chipotle had warned in December. It also expects sales will be hurt this year as well.


NPD said that the former Chipotle customers haven’t given their business to any one rival chain. Among the brands that likely won over those diners? McDonald’s (MCD), Wendy’s (WEN), and Chick-fil-A.