Industry News | January 7, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Chipotle Sales Plummet After E. Coli, Norovirus Outbreaks

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The news has gotten worse for fast-casual leader Chipotle.

The Denver-based company, which until late last year had enjoyed a long string of positive growth and brand affinity for its “Food With Integrity” mantra, announced that its same-store sales decreased 30 percent in the month of December. In addition, comparable sales dropped 14.6 percent for the fourth quarter.

These figures come after a norovirus outbreak in a Boston Chipotle sickened nearly 150 customers, and after an E. coli incident in October and November sickened many others and shut down dozens of locations.

Chipotle also announced that it has been served with a Federal Grand Jury Subpoena from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The subpoena is connected with a criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California on an isolated norovirus incident in California in August.

The company’s consumer perception has taken a nosedive since the first E. coli outbreak, according to consumer data firm YouGov BrandIndex. As of December 17, shortly after the Boston norovirus incident, Chipotle’s Buzz score, which asks consumers whether they’ve heard positive or negative news on a particular brand, stood at -40. The Buzz range is between -100 and 100, with 0 being a neutral position.

Chipotle’s -40 score was down from its November 1 ranking of 8. YouGov BrandIndex reported it as the largest perception fall since General Motors in 2014, when that company was accused of ignition switch failures.

By Sam Oches 

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