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Chipotle’s New CEO Hails From Taco Bell

Can Brian Niccol pull the burrito chain out of its decline?

Chipotle burrito Photo: Eric/Flickr

Chipotle’s search for a new boss to right its E. coli-stricken ship is over, and its selection may come as a bit of a surprise: The chain has plucked its new CEO, Brian Niccol, from Taco Bell.

Niccol has worked for Taco Bell since 2011, first as marketing and innovation chief and later as CEO. He is largely credited with helping turning the brand into a #brand, using social platforms like Snapchat and Twitter to lure a more youthful demographic into late-night drive-thru runs for Doritos Locos tacos and fried chicken shell tacos.

A Wall Street Journal source says Niccol will be looking to replicate that success at Chipotle, “using social media to make the brand more youthful and culturally relevant.” He replaces founder Steve Ells, who stepped down from the chief executive position last November; Ells will move to the position of executive chairman.

Chipotle has struggled with declining sales and traffic since since multiple food safety disasters sickened dozens of customers starting in Fall 2015. E. coli and norovirus outbreaks led to numerous lawsuits; the company’s profits plummeted by 95 percent in 2016. Its multi-pronged turnaround plan included ramped-up food safety procedures, free burritos galore, and new menu items (including the much-maligned queso), but seemingly nothing has been able to pull it out of its slump.

It’s an interesting choice for Chipotle, which has long used the marketing tagline “food with integrity,” touting its use of non-GMO produce and “sustainably raised” pork to position its burritos as a fresher, higher-quality alternative to greasy fast-food chains like Taco Bell.

News of Niccol’s hiring gave Chipotle’s stock price — which had been down more than 60 percent from its all-time high in summer 2015 — a boost, rising more than 10 percent in after-hours trading.

Chipotle Names Brian Niccol Chief Executive Officer [Press Release]

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