Just Tuesday, Chipotle was counting results of a weekend where it sold the most burritos and bowls it ever has. Thanks to a back-to-school BOGO offer, the brand said it served up 1.9 million entrees on Saturday. More than 600,000 portions of guacamole were dished out as employees smashed 256,000 pounds of avocados. Restaurants in university towns showed the strongest week-over-week increases, Chipotle said.
"We already knew Chipotle was a fan-favorite among students of all ages, but the demand we saw this weekend was staggering," Brandt said of the response. "Strong redemptions across both digital and in-restaurant orders are a testament to customers' desire for real ingredients, real cooking, and real flavor—and we were happy to please their palates as we round out the summer and head into a new school year."
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Chipotle was giving away product to hit these marks. Yet the underlying notion is a powerful one. As Brandt and Niccol have previously preached, Chipotle has extremely visible whitespace in its marketing dynamic. Why? Simply because a lot of customers left following the food-safety issue in 2015 and haven’t returned, with traffic counts on the steady decline ever since. At the same time, however, Chipotle’s product has proven demand, clearly. So, the company's task isn’t quite like the one facing many brands; It’s not just looking to entice new customers and keep current ones, it’s also tossing a line to loyal diners who lapsed years ago but could be willing to reenter the fold with proper incentives. If Chipotle lures them back, what’s to say it can’t keep them?
“The company has made some efforts to win back their customers. They tried some promotions and have had some moderate success in a loyalty program offering. But relative to other concepts, it appears the company is only scratching the surface of what is possible from a marketing and outreach perspective,” Scott added.
Scott points out that Chipotle burst onto the scene more than a decade ago as “a category killer.” Basically, its “Food with Integrity” model and grassroots marketing campaign disrupted the definition of what a fast casual could be, both from a scale and quality perspective. “As a result, in terms of marketing, it simply was not in the company's DNA, and if anything, they became known more for their lack of it than anything else,” Scott said.
Niccol’s arrival in March buoyed optimism since the story sparks a familiar tone with the former Taco Bell head. Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of the New England Consulting Group, told QSR in March that with Niccol, “Here you’ve got a guy who crossed the chasm successfully. He is about the best pick we can think of for that job. I think you will start seeing the new Chipotle. And I think the changes will be significant. They won’t be deck chairs moving around the Titanic. They will be a helicopter taking off from the back deck.”