Although Chipotle Visits Are Down, Young Adults Did Not Desert Them, Reports NPD Group

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Chipotle’s recent series of food safety outbreaks rattled its investors and enough of its customers to see visits decline, but the chain’s strong base of teens and young adult customers continued to support the fast casual chain, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company.

“What our research tells us is that Chipotle has a strong loyal base from which to build its business back up relatively quickly,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD Group .

Chipotle’s recent series of food safety outbreaks rattled its investors and enough of its customers to see visits decline, but the chain’s strong base of teens and young adult customers continued to support the fast casual chain, finds recent research by The NPD Group, a leading global information company. In the quarter ending December, during which several of the outbreaks occurred, total visits to Chipotle were down 5 percent compared to a 19 percent traffic gain the same quarter year ago. Teens and young adults, however, increased their visits to the Mexican fast casual chain by double-digits last year, according to NPD Group’s ongoing foodservice market research.

“Young adults represent the largest share of Chipotle’s overall traffic,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst. “Their willingness to overlook any food safety concerns to eat at Chipotle could be a result of unabashed loyalty or lack of awareness.”

NPD Group continually tracks U.S. consumers’ awareness and concern about food safety outbreaks and often sees heightened awareness and concern of an outbreak correspond with heavy news coverage of the incident. After the news cycle quiets down, awareness and concern of the outbreak declines. Based on this pattern, if consumers aren’t exposed to news about a food safety outbreak, they have little awareness or concern.

As for those not-so-loyal and former Chipotle customers, they appeared to have scattered to various other quick service or fast casual outlets for their fare, and no particular outlet or chain is the clear winner of the chain’s visit largesse, based on an analysis using NPD Group’s receipt harvesting service, Checkout TrackingSM. Chains with the most units, like Burger King and McDonald’s, had the opportunity to attract the most former Chipotle customers. Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s also won over former Chipotle customers.

“What our research tells us is that Chipotle has a strong loyal base from which to build its business back up relatively quickly,” says Riggs. “To win back the trust of their former customers, Chipotle will need to continually communicate all of the ways in which they are preventing any future outbreaks and prove to them that they able to deliver on their ‘food with integrity’ promise.”

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About The NPD Group
The NPD Group provides global information and advisory services to drive better business decisions. By combining unique data assets with unmatched industry expertise, we help our clients track their markets, understand consumers, and drive profitable growth. Sectors covered include automotive, beauty, consumer electronics, entertainment, fashion, food / foodservice, home, luxury, mobile, office supplies, sports, technology, toys, and video games. For more information, visit http://www.npd.com and npdgroupblog.com. Follow us on Twitter: @npdgroup.

About Checkout Tracking™
Checkout Tracking, which launched in November 2014, is the first service to provide detailed information on consumer buying behavior, based on receipts for both online and brick-and-mortar retail purchases from the same consumers over time. Checkout Tracking delivers precise category, brand, and item-level purchase detail linked to buyers and their demographics, useful for analyzing competitive market baskets and identifying purchase patterns. Information is collected from more than 50,000 consumers from NPD’s receipt-harvesting mobile phone app and the scanning of more than 2 million active in-boxes for e-receipts through Slice Intelligence.

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Kim McLynn
The NPD Group
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