Chipotle founder and Co-CEO stepped in front of a camera in a bid to win over weary diners that still aren’t hankering for the chain’s once-popular tacos and burritos.
In a video that the Mexican burrito chain unveiled on Wednesday, a contrite Ells admits that last year, the fast-casual restaurant chain “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 video—as well as an outline of eight key food safety advancements that Chipotle (CMG) claims it has made—is the latest move by the chain to try to win back trust it had lost in the wake of a poorly handled a prolonged E. Coli crisis that started almost a year ago. Since then, shares have cratered (down from a high of $750 in August 2015 to $400 apiece today) and sales for the first six months of 2016 slipped 20% to $1.83 billion. Analysts expect more pain to continue. And Chipotle even acquired an activist investor as it tries to dig itself out of a branding perception hole.
The problem Chipotle is confronting is that after years of establishing itself as a brand that could be trusted because it sold fresher and healthier foods than rivals like McDonald’s (MCD), that promise came into question after E. Coli outbreaks that mostly hit the populous Northeast and the West states. Chipotle faced accusations that it wasn’t fast enough to contain the damage or share information with diners about the food safety problems—and at one point late last year, executives even blamed the media and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection for their woes.
But the new approach on Wednesday is significant because it is rare for CEOs to express such public contrition. Ells signed a full-page ad that appeared in the New York Times, digital ads and other print publications, in which he outlined several advancements, including an electronic tracking system to ensure better ingredient monitoring, the implementation of additional safety checks, and increased restaurant inspections. The company also created a food safety advisory council to review procedures and give advice about the latest advancements in that field.
All this comes amid a backdrop that suggests that Chipotle’s actions throughout much of the year to regain trust just haven’t really resonated. It has become increasingly public about a variety of promotions—the chain put out two public press releases about a September free drink promotion for students. Other promotions have included a loyalty program, a free kids’ meals deal, and promotions that targeted nurses and teachers.
Those promotions aren’t yet working. Wall Street analysts expect Chipotle to report a 9% drop in revenue for the third quarter, though encouragingly, a rebound is expected in the final three months of the year.
“Our commitment to you is that every day, in every restaurant, we will serve food that is safe, delicious, and made with ingredients raised with care,” said Ells.