Has Chipotle turned a corner? A new survey indicates things are looking up for the chain, and those free burrito coupons were definitely a factor, CNBC reports. Consumer sentiment toward Chipotle hit its lowest point in January and then took a turn for the better in late February, with the gratis food giveaway boosting traffic to stores, according to analysts at William Blair.
The financial services firm has been closely monitoring people's feelings toward Chipotle since shortly after the E. coli debacle began last fall, and says its latest findings indicate that "[the company's] recovery process has begun." Same-store sales were down a whopping 36 percent in January compared to last year, so the company's got a steep uphill climb ahead of it — and stock holders shouldn't expect it to be perfectly smooth: Analysts at Sterne Agee believe sales won't see nearly as much of a boost in March as they did in late February, as last month's traffic increase was at least partially fueled by customers redeeming the aforementioned free burrito coupons.
Of course, free food was just one aspect of the chain's recovery plan: In addition to stricter food safety protocols, aggressive hiring, and continuing to expand with new stores, Chipotle is also funneling a cool $50 million into marketing intended to get customers back in line for burritos.
The company also just hired new public relations representation: Burson-Marsteller, which per Reuters "is known for helping Johnson & Johnson recover from a deadly Tylenol tampering incident in 1982." Surely they can handle a few E. coli-laced burritos.