In this file:


·         Chipotle Comms Head On Crisis Comms In The Covid Era

·         Chipotle’s Digital-Only Location Anticipates New Era For Quick-Serve Restaurants



Chipotle Comms Head On Crisis Comms In The Covid Era

Chipotle's chief corporate affairs and food safety officer discusses how the company recovered from a string of norovirus outbreaks, and how those lessons helped keep the quick-serve chain's business afloat throughout the pandemic.


Diana Marszalek, PRovoke Media 

18 Nov 2020


When Laurie Schalow joined Chipotle as chief communications officer in 2017, the Mexican quick-serve chain was in crisis mode, reeling from a string of norovirus outbreaks at its stores that sickened more than 1,100 people from 2015-2018 (and ultimately cost the company $25 million in fines). Since then, Schalow has assumed the role of chief corporate affairs and food safety officer, as which she has overseen the adoption measures to ensure Chipotle’s food is safe to eat — and grown a comms team from two to 70 to assure consumers of it. All of which put the restaurant chain in the position of being able to stay operational since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic without having to make massive changes to processes and protocol. Schalow, who has more than 20-years’ experience in the quick-serve sector (She spent six years as Yum! Brands’ VP of public affairs) spoke with PRovoke about what it has taken to regain consumer trust in Chipotle following the outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, as well as continuing to grow that with health and safety concerns at a high. An edited transcript:


What was the fallout from the norovirus outbreaks in terms of Chipotle’s relationship with customers?


I think trust was an issue. We knew that we needed to rebuild and regain the trust of consumers, particularly moms and children. We lost that demographic. We spent a lot of time in 2017 and 2018 rebuilding that trust and bringing in new consumers by finding ways to excite them through new products, new innovation, new partnerships and the like.


Did communications play a role in mitigating that loss of trust?


After the (incidents), the brand went silent. They were reactive, not proactive. They just didn’t have a strategic plan of how they were going to communicate with consumers and win them back. There were two people doing PR during the crisis, and I think they reported into marketing at the time. So that was one response from Chipotle, having a team to handle a crisis through communications.


Also after 2015-2016, the brand spent two solid years making sure they were evaluating every process, every discipline to make sure food safety was locked in mode throughout the organization so today we have industry leading best practices that we’re quite proud to talk about. Especially during Covid, it bode very well for us. We already had wellness checks in place. We already had air purification systems. We already had hand sanitizers for guests and our employees. So it was pretty easy for us to pivot during a crisis like the pandemic of Covid.


How has the company’s communications function changed since that time? ...


Is the company where you want it to be? ...


What are the lessons learned in terms of crisis communications? ...


How has Chipotle weathered the Covid pandemic? ...





Chipotle’s Digital-Only Location Anticipates New Era For Quick-Serve Restaurants


George Anderson, Contributor, Forbes         

Nov 18, 2020


Chipotle Mexican Grill announced plans last week to open its first “digital-only restaurant." The Chipotle Digital Kitchen, as it is being called, is located “just outside the gates” of the West Point military academy in Highland Falls, NY, and will allow cadets and other consumers in the area to place online orders for delivery or pickup. No matter their military rank, none of the restaurant’s customers will be able to take advantage of sit-down service.


The chain said that the new concept will provide the option of having restaurants in urban areas that don’t have the space to accommodate full-size format units.


Chipotle is making the move after having seen its online sales skyrocket since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. The restaurant chain reported total revenues growing 14.1 percent in the third quarter, with the increase driven primarily by its digital business, which was up 202.5 percent during the period. Online sales represented 48.8 percent of Chipotle’s total during the period, helping to drive its same-store results up 8.3 percent.


In an online discussion last week many members of the RetailWire BrainTrust saw Chipotle’s move as one anticipating a new era of innovation in the QSR space.


"The past 10 months have proven that eliminating traditional in-store service has not adversely affected QSR sales," wrote Adrian Weidmann, managing director at StoreStream Metrics. "In fact, focusing exclusively on drive thru, BOPIS [buy online, pickup in-store] and delivery is proving to be good for business.”


"Dark stores are becoming more and more popular, as foot traffic slows and e-commerce grows," wrote Natalie Walkley, director of marketing at Deck Commerce OMS. "It was only a matter of time before more restaurants did this.”


"I have no doubt that the pandemic is causing many of the fast causal restaurants — if not all categories of restaurant — to think creatively about how they approach the dining experience in the future," wrote Mark Ryski, CEO of HeadCount Corporation...