But Niccoi’s arrival at the Denver-based Chipotle appears to be having some immediate ramifications.
His March 5th take-over of the 2,400 unit restaurant chain has brought the quick ouster of Mark Crumpacker, who for the past nine years has headed marketing and strategy for Chipotle.
Crumpacker’s group was known for edgy campaigns, like hiring music legend Willie Nelson to perform Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ as the soundtrack to a short film sold on iTunes that depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable and Chipotle-like future.
But it was Crumpacker who especially seemed to have a tin ear in the aftermath of the 2015 outbreaks of foodborne disease that for a time crippled Chipotle. Also in the wake of the outbreaks, Crumpacker was named as a “repeat buyer” for a New York City cocaine-trafficking ring which provided delivery services to customers throughout Manhattan.
In 2016, Crumpacker was put on leave after being arrested on cocaine charges but he was allowed to return to work after completing a drug rehab program that resulted in all charges being dropped.
Crumpacker’s split with the company was disclosed in a March 14 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Chipotle. He will enjoy a cash severance of 26 weeks at his base pay along with a post-employment of his health insurance benefits. At the time of the 2015 outbreaks, Crumpacker was taking down $4.3 million a year. The SEC filing also says he will have 12 months to exercise vested stock-only stock appreciation rights, rather than the standard 90 days.
Niccoi is the former CEO of Yum! Brands Taco Bell Division, and he is credited with turning around the 45,000 restaurant chain that operates in more than 135 countries. During Niccoi’s Taco Bell tenure, Crumpacker reportedly said that a “single fast-food burrito served by one of our (Chipotle’s) competitors” contains 85 ingredients.” The statement was interpreted by many as a knock against Taco Bell.
Niccoi has succeeded Chipotle founder Steve Ellis as CEO. Ellis, who was a school chum of Crumpacker, remains as chairman of Chipotle’s board of directors.
The 2015 outbreaks caused the Chipotle stock to take a deep dive and Crumpacker’s marketing and strategy group did not seem to know what to do about it. And three years later, the burrito chain has yet to recapture the magic it had before the outbreaks.
It was a string of back-to-back outbreaks that plagued Chipotle at locations throughout the country during the last half of 2015 that caused misfortune for its business and hammered its stock value. Those incidents included:
- Seattle — E. coli O1 57: H7, July 2015, five sickened people, source unknown;
- Simi Valley, CA — Norovirus, August 2015, 234 people, the source was a sick employee;
- Minnesota — Salmonella Newport, August and September 2015, 64 sick people, the source was tomatoes but it is not known at what point in the field-to-fork chain the pathogen was introduced;
- Nine states — E. coli O26, began October 2015 and declared over on Feb. 1, 55 sickened people, source unknown, states involved are California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and,
- Three states — E. coli O26, began December 2015, declared over Feb. 1, five sickened people, source unknown, states involved are Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
- Boston — Norovirus, December 2015, 151 sickened.
The harsh public reaction Chipotle experienced was seen by some as self-inflicted because the company’s reaction to a major food safety crisis did not seem consistent with its own “Food with Integrity” motto.
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