Every Chipotle restaurant in the US is closing its doors for lunch today to address multiple E. coli outbreaks that made dozens ill after eating the burrito chain's Mexican-ish food tubes last year. The majority of the blame has been placed on the difficulty of managing Chipotle's complex supply chain, which involves many small and medium-sized farms and suppliers.
For anybody who isn't a Chipotle employee, the company also live tweeted the meeting, and livestreamed it on Twitter's Periscope app. It should have been a slam dunk for a company with a rabid and engaged online fan base. A livestreamed meeting at such a critical juncture for the company—Chipotle stock has fallen significantly in value since the outbreaks, which has now been declared over by the Centers for Disease Control—seems to say, "We have nothing to hide."
But it wasn't a dunk—more like an airball. Unfortunately, Chipotle's bold plan to make its recovery public to all its customers was about as selectively transparent as its food sourcing procedures.
Starting at 11 AM, the Chipotle Twitter account began live tweeting the meeting, picking out choice quotes from CEO Steve Ellis and broadcasting a photo of employees intently watching a food safety video. When the Periscope stream went live, it was for only a minute and a half. Ellis announced a new $10 million "local growers support initiative" that will help small and medium-sized farmers supplying Chipotle with produce and meats keep up with the company's new food safety practices by subsidizing the cost of education and testing. People clapped. And… That was it. One minute and a half—no detail, and no follow-ups, although I have reached out to Chipotle for comment on the stream length and the details of their new initiative and safety procedures.
In its greatest moment of crisis, when it's making people dangerously sick with its food, Chipotle couldn't afford its customers more than 94 seconds of a livestream
I should note right now that I've never eaten Chipotle. Being half-Colombian, I'm more into arepas than burritos, anyway. Regardless, my mostly unintentional avoidance of Chipotle has left me scratching my head about the legitimate cultural phenomenon surrounding the fast food chain. This is also why the livestream was so interesting.
This is a company with a remarkably dedicated and engaged customer base. And now, in its greatest moment of crisis, when it's making people dangerously sick with its food (and lest we forget, the company is still under criminal investigation for a separate norovirus outbreak), Chipotle couldn't afford its customers more than 94 seconds of a livestream.
Widespread food poisoning is serious. It not only calls into question the company's procedures—Chipotle, to its dubious credit, has been rather transparent in noting that some of its small suppliers are overseas, and produce goes directly to their stores while only some is tested and washed in central kitchens (unwashed produce is also a risk)—but there's the very simple fact that if a massive, continent-wide company messes up like this, it should be held accountable. Even better, for the company at least, it should hold itself accountable to its customers, especially if it's a company that trades almost entirely on "authenticity" and has customers that happen to tweet about its product a lot.
But if Chipotle is not willing to be appropriately transparent with its customers in the first place, then none of the live tweeting, livestreaming, or other buzzy tech in the world will save their brand. Because, for all its world-improving rhetoric, a brand is exactly what Chipotle is, and it's trying to protect itself.