Dozens of headlines in recent days proclaimed that Chipotle is still doing what it’s executives said it would start doing months ago. It’s been a testament to the power of the Denver-based burrito chain’s marketing team to generate ink without actual news.
The media blitz regurgitates the food safety plan and staff that Chipotle has been chanting about since early this year. (Author’s note: You know it’s a good day when you get to use the word regurgitate in a column about food safety.)
The gist of the rest of the coverage is the shattering revelation that the summer marketing promotion, Chiptopia, is in the past. Chipotle Mexican Grill locations across the country are rolling out fall specials. Kids eat free on certain days, beverage benefits abound, burritos roll off the line.
Oh yah — and founder and co-CEO Steve Ells has recorded and posted another video message, aka Interweb commercial, on the company’s website. Check out what he has to say this time around.
While you’ve got Ells running in the background, give these headlines a scan. They are a non-scientific sampling of the contents of my inbox this week:
“Every Day’s a Safety Drill as Chipotle Woos Customers Back”
— The New York Times
“Chipotle founder touts improvements to food safety”
— CNN Money
“Chipotle: Our Food Is Safe, Really — Chipotle plans another push to convince people that its food is safe after last year’s E. coli outbreak”
— U.S. News & World Report
“Chipotle Launches Ad Blitz to Convince People Food Is Safe Now”
“Chipotle refocuses message on food safety”
— Nation’s Restaurant News
These and other headlines this past week mandate a nod of credit where credit is due. Chipotle’s marketing gang has said jump on a regular basis this year and every few weeks much of the media has asked how high. It’s clear why marketing director Chris Arnold and others are still on the payroll.
The mainstream and trade media coverage in these five sample stories includes a mix of details about Chipotle’s food safety improvements, announced in the early weeks of this year, and the role of retired academic James Marsden as the company’s food safety director, which was revealed a few weeks later.
My favorite headline this week in the category of “No New News: Marketing Magic” comes from the Business Insider, drum roll please:
In a rare peak into the marketing mindset of the Chipotle team, Arnold told the Business Insider discussed “perception” tools and what comes next.
“Chiptopia was not a perception tool, though other programs have been having a positive impact on consumer perceptions,” Arnold told the Business Insider in an email.
“The program we launched (this week), to update people on some of the important food-safety changes we have made, serves yet a different purpose. … we wanted to be transparent about many of the food-safety advancements we have put in place.”
Well, as the Fab Four said: “I’m looking through you.”
That’s the thing about transparency. You can see what’s there and what’s not there. And this week there was nothing new there from Chipotle.
The company continues to tout its “new” practice of dipping certain fresh produce commodities in boiling water for five seconds to kill pathogens on outer rinds and surfaces.
Sounds good, until you talk to the food safety scientists who have researched how long produce has to be in the boiling water to actually kill pathogens — 12 to 15 seconds minimum.
A tidbit of new news from Chipotle’s media blitz I did find was The Times photo of food safety director Marsden — father of actor James Marsden who is known for his role as Cyclops in the X-Men movie franchise. The elder Marsden visited a Chipotle location in Manhattan.
Marsden’s photo opp gave him a chance to discuss with The Times one of the cornerstones of Chipotle’s “new” food safety protocols. Every 30 minutes a timer goes off and staff washes their hands.
They said they would do it. They started doing it. They are still doing it. That’s the news from Chipotle this week.
What I’d like to know is why weren’t they doing it before six foodborne illness outbreaks in the last six months of 2015 sickened more than 500 people?
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