What Can C-Stores Learn From the Chipotle E. Coli Situation?

And what do your customers demand in terms of ‘food safety?’
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Many of the positive merits that satisfy consumer demands for fresh, local and seasonal food and beverage also “carry risks of their own,” according to The Hartman Group.

Two recent Hartman reports, “Diners’ Changing Behaviors 2015” and “Transparency 2015,” uncover those risks and help to determine the most important attributes for consumers to consider as they decide which food and beverage products to purchase. 

One risk is the shift in restaurant practices from a focus on predictable consistency, which Hartman refers to as “industrial production,” toward practices that involve meals made from scratch and the incorporation of pure ingredients.

In this context, The Hartman Group referenced Chipotle’s recent E. coli crisis that sickened more than 50 people across 11 states over an extended period of time. The company’s founder had once petitioned Congress for help in ending the overuse of antibiotics in America’s food supply. And that petition is in lockstep with consumer demands for “pure” foods and beverages.

But as Hartman points out, these recent events “have derailed Chipotle’s sterling reputation and highlight the challenges companies, when enmeshed in a similar crisis have to overcome to re-establish consumers’ trust, which will in turn restore sales and stock value.”

The Chipotle situation “reflects the somewhat hazy battleground visible today where what consumers view as ‘industrial’ processed foods compete with brands that are attempting to move toward a horizon that embraces distinctions that relate to purity, simplicity of ingredients, freshness and local or authentic products,” according to the report.

Chipotle’s predicament underscores the notion that while great opportunities exist in meeting diners’ demands for fresher experiences when eating out, foodservice providers “face increasing risks in terms of delivering culinary distinctions safely and consistently,” it states.

As brands work to meet demand at mass-market levels, such risks “will mean greater attention to details, which, ironically, will increasingly mirror the production standards of the largest providers of food and beverage experiences.”

To that end, it would seem logical to assume all the safety practices of a well-oiled industrial foodservice machine, but take on the appearances of good-old, down-home, organic and nutritionally beneficial cooking through the use of organic products and sustainable methods.

Here are some other things to keep in mind—the consumer priority list when lining up the most important attributes as they decide what food and beverage products to purchase, according to The Hartman Group:

  • 56% value product safety, healthfulness
  • 51% value products that save money
  • 41% value products that help support the U.S. economy