Industry News | June 30, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Will 2 New Initiatives from Chipotle Win Customers Back?

Chipotle announced two big moves in its ongoing quest to regain customers after food-safety scares late last year stalled the fast casual’s explosive growth.

This week, the Denver-based burrito chain announced a new loyalty rewards program, as well as the addition of chorizo in select restaurants.

The new rewards program, called Chiptopia Summer Rewards, will run for three months starting July 1 and will reward customers for multiple Chipotle visits in the same month. During each month of the program, a customer’s fourth (Mild status), eighth (Medium), and 11th (Hot) visit and entrée purchase triggers a reward for one free entrée and elevates the customer to a new status level.

“We created Chiptopia to reward our most loyal customers who continue to support our efforts to cultivate a better world,” says Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer at Chipotle. “While Chiptopia Summer Rewards lasts just three months, we will be carefully listening to our customers and using what we learn as we consider the design of an ongoing rewards program.”

The rewards program, which requires a Chiptopia card that customers can pick up at any location, comes just months after Chipotle gave away millions of free burritos through mailers and redeemable codes.

Chipotle also announced a rare menu addition: chorizo. The spicy chicken and pork sausage will be available in Columbus, Ohio; New York City; Sacramento, California; and San Diego locations until the fall, when the company expects it to be available nationwide.

The chorizo is made with a blend of pork and white-meat chicken and is seasoned with paprika, toasted cumin, and chipotle peppers. It is cooked in each restaurant by searing it on a hot grill.

“Since we opened the first Chipotle 23 years ago, our menu has changed very little, and our focus has been on constantly improving the quality and taste of the food we serve,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “While we have never been opposed to changing our menu, we only do so when we think there’s an opportunity to add something that is really unique but that fits within our overall menu, and where we can find ingredients that meet our high standards.”

Last fall, Chipotle suffered from multiple cases of E. coli and norovirus that sickened hundreds of customers across the country. The food-safety scare severely affected the fast casual’s traffic; comparable sales were down 29.7 percent for 2016’s first quarter