Chipotle Mexican Grill is hoping to bring diners back to its restaurants by giving them a way to win one of its most popular items: guacamole.
Chipotle's sales began plummeting last fall following a series of illness outbreaks. The chain has started to win back some customers with giveaways such as a free burrito, though sales and visits to its restaurant are still deep in negative territory. Last week, Chipotle said sales at longstanding locations were down about 22% in the first week of March. That sounds pretty bleak, but to the company it is a promising sign compared with the declines of 40% it was seeing in mid-January, before the CDC completed its investigation.
Chipotle is continuing a heavy dose of marketing and promotion activity as it tries to reassure patrons that it is safe to eat at Chipotle. It also wants to prove the taste of its food has not suffered in the wake of implementing safety procedures, which now include dicing and testing tomatoes at central commissaries and blanching lemons, limes, jalapenos, onions, and avocados.
The company's first big marketing and promotional push came with its Feb. 8 rain check offer when the restaurants were closed for a company-wide meeting. That offer had a much higher redemption rate than planned, with 5.3 million requesting the offer and a 67% redemption rate, while Chipotle had expected about 2.5 million people to seek it out, Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer, said at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference on March 16.
Now, Chipotle is offering fans a chance to score free chips and guacamole. To win, customers need to play an online "Guac Hunter" game in which one is supposed to quickly spot several differences between very similar pictures. Chipotle took the lead on the game, incorporating assets and facts provided by industry marketer Avocados From Mexico.