retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Bloomberg has a long and fascinating piece about the food safety, infrastructure, marketing and cultural issues facing Chipotle as it works to recover from the series of crises that have it its stores in terms of E. coli and norovirus incidents that have challenged the very core of its "food with integrity" value proposition.

Spoiler alert: Bloomberg creates a portrait that in some ways is at odds with conventional wisdom about the chain. For example, there is more cooking and central preparation done at Chipotle commissaries than most people realize. And, because of the large geographic spread of Chipotle's problems, it seems more likely that the contaminated produce came from a large national source, rather than local sources.

You can - and should - read the entire story here.
KC's View:
One of the things that really grabbed my attention in this story was the degree of smugness and even arrogance that folks on the ground - especially in the early days of the Chipotle crisis - found in the chain's attitude. That's never a good thing in any company.

I've gotten email from readers over the years, and especially in recent weeks, suggesting that Chipotle's holier-than-thou attitudes now would come back to haunt it. I've been a little skeptical of that, but I'm beginning to change my mind, largely because of two factors - the fact that the chain's problems don't seem to be subsiding, and the empty parking lots that I see at pretty much every Chipotle I pass on the road.

I'm simply not sure Chipotle can recover. I will tell you, though, that there is a small light at the end of the tunnel.

I spent part of yesterday with some college kids (more on this in tomorrow's "FaceTime"), and several of them had eaten at Chipotle recently. And I think I may have detected among them a desire for the chain to make things right again, so the rest of them can go back to patronizing a fast feeder that they've perceived as relevant to their lives and desires.

I do think, though, that if Chipotle makes a big deal out of having made things right, and then it encounters more food safety issues, that light at the end of the tunnel may end up being an oncoming train, and things will be pretty much over for Chipotle.