While the good news for Chipotle is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have closed their investigation into the burrito eatery’s multi-state E. coli oubreak, late last week the company was served with a federal subpoena demanding more information about an earlier outbreak of norovirus in California that sickened 200 people.
Chipotle reported this news along with their earnings report for the last quarter and for all of 2015. The U.S. Attorney has asked for documents relating to company-wide food safety practices dating back to the beginning of 2013, instead of just the store in Simi Valley, California where the outbreak happened.
In a statement along with the financial results, company founder and co-CEO Steve Ells called 2015 “the most challenging period in Chipotle’s history,” and set the goal of turning the company into a leader in food safety instead of a symbol of gastrointestinal distress. The company’s new goal is to “establish Chipotle as a leader in food safety just as we have become a leader in our quest for the very best ingredients we can find.”
As you might expect, the company’s overall sales have fallen, and were down 14.6% in comparable sales in the fourth quarter. The same figure was up a tiny bit for the whole year, though.
“[W]e are now in a position to aggressively welcome customers into our restaurants and restore customer confidence in the things that make Chipotle great,” Monty Moran, the company’s other co-CEO, said in a statement. That means that the company plans to market heavily to customers, sending coupons and running promotions.
They want people back in the restaurants, and they want their new commitment to food safety to be visible. On two visits to different Chipotles since the outbreaks, I’ve noticed employees conspicuously sticking thermometers in the ingredients on display to customers.