Chipotle Still Reeling Thanks to E-Coli Scare


Chipotle just felt the “two” of the one-two punch land. Immediately after the CDC discovered an outbreak of e coli in locations in Seattle and Portland social media exploded with endless barrages of consumer doubt and disgust. Recently, the company was forced to disclose the outbreak was not contained and could be in as many as six states. Upon hearing that news, the market responded accordingly. Chipotle stock plummeted about 12 percent last.

Now the company is facing a PR crisis on two fronts: consumer and investor. The consumer PR crisis is bad and getting worse. Every time the CDC announced a new state impacted by the outbreak – California, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Oregon and Washington have been listed so far – it gets worse for the brand.

The more people who hear about it, the more people are talking about it. That volume also leads to longevity. A relatively minor outbreak could come and go quickly, barely registering a blip on the national news. But now, with locations in six states (and, possibly, counting) involved in the CDC investigation there is no containing this monster. It’s a safe bet that the only reason Chipotle is not the lead story right now is that the POTUS race and refugee crisis are monopolizing the news cycle.

At this point Chipotle is relegated to reporting a rather bleak silver lining. No new cases have been reported in the original epicenters of Seattle and Portland. That’s scant reassurance for a consumer public growing increasingly weary of this outbreaks and wary of mass produced food – even if it’s purportedly healthy.

In quite possibly the worst choice of words, representatives said the outbreak was “contained.” Unfortunately for them, the consumer public doesn’t agree … and they are sick to death of hearing about “contained” threats. Take a wild guess how many times folks have Googled “contained threat” in the past week or so … your guess is probably very, very low. And, while most of those responses will be about Obama’s ISIS comments, there’s Chipotle, mixed in the search responses with … ISIS! Yeah, talk about from bad to worse.

Recently, Chipotle offered a sincere apology. Given the state of things and the unfortunate language used that, however unintentionally, connected their brand with much worse news in the world, it’s going to take more than an apology to make this right.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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