Corporations are people too, so of course they have New Year’s resolutions of their own. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells took the stage today at an investors conference in Orlando, along with fellow execs including chief marketing officer Mark Crumpacker (yes, that Mark Crumpacker) to discuss the company’s continued recovery efforts 14 months after its massive food safety disaster erupted.
Ells acknowledged that “2016 was indeed a challenging year for us, the most challenging we’ve ever faced.” The beleaguered burrito chain’s stock price continues to struggle, and the company recently admitted that its customer service has faltered. (The recent avocado shortage didn’t help its margins either.)
Here’s what Chipotle customers and the general public can expect to see from the company in 2017:
Expect to see more burrito commercials and banner ads: In April, the company will launch its biggest advertising campaign ever. The new campaign will “focus on taste and great ingredients through the use of music and animation.” Chipotle will also be pushing catering, which “took a big hit” in the wake of its E. coli outbreak. Some of those marketing dollars will also be thrown into producing “a new scripted television series for kids” (but why?), but execs did not expand on that.
Chipotle will be pushing its online and mobile ordering: The company sees this as a big area for potential growth and plans to further “modernize and enhance” its mobile app and online ordering features. It already launched a “redesigned and simplified” online ordering system on its website in November, which includes the ability to order delivery from third-party services as well as catering. Last month it launched “smart pickup times” to lessen wait times for online and mobile orders, saying that new initiative has cut back wait times by roughly half.
Brace for at least one new menu item: Chipotle doesn’t see new menu items as “significant drivers” of business, but says it does want to “add variety and excitement” to its menu — so long as the new items “have minimal impact on operations.” The mysterious dessert that the company previously teased has made it through the testing phase and may be landing at restaurants in the spring. (It will only require the new addition of one new ingredient, so it’s probably something basic like a sopapilla or cinnamon-sugar tortilla chips.)
Price increases could be coming: Execs noted that the rise in average hourly wages has largely outpaced menu price increases. The company may begin to test small menu price increases in certain markets where labor costs are rising the fastest, to see how customers react.
And kiss those free burritos goodbye: While the company leaned heavily on free food and its limited-time rewards program, Chiptopia, to lure diners in post-food safety disaster, execs said that “heavy promo spending has run its course” — so don’t expect to see many more free BOGO burrito offers hitting your inbox.