Wracked with troubles, Chipotle has a new leader and a mission to prepare “better food”

The long road to recovery.
The long road to recovery.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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It’s going to cost a little extra to fix this burrito.

That’s the message Chipotle Mexican Grill sent today in an announcement that its co-CEO, Monty Moran, was stepping down and vacating his seat on the company board. In his place, the chain’s founder and co-CEO, Steve Ells, would be taking full control of the restaurant chain.

For a year now, the once-irreproachable brand has been trying to recover from a December 2015 food safety crisis that sickened 60 people with E. coli across 14 states, hospitalizing 22. Since the food safety outbreak, Chipotle fell out of favor with consumers and struggled to convince people to walk back through its front doors.

“Given the ongoing challenges facing the company, the board felt strongly that it was best for Steve to resume leadership of the company going forward,” the company said.

In addition to shuffling its leadership, the company has also decided to refurbish its stated mission. The company was committed to changing “the way people think about and eat fast food,” but moving forward the mission will be to “ensure that better food, prepared from whole, unprocessed ingredients is accessible to everyone.”

The announcement to the change didn’t provide any nuanced reasoning for why they company is making the shift.

In the past, Chipotle has used its “changemaker” mission to create slickly produced animated videos excoriating the food industry for its mechanized industrialization of the food chain. Those were watched by millions of people. It is unclear how the recasting of its mission will impact how it attempts to reach consumers.

Ells will need all the help he can get for fixing the company.

Since the food safety scare, Wall Street has been losing faith in the company. The value of the chain’s stock has fallen by 34% in the last year.

The move to entrust Ells with even more authority over the company’s direction didn’t inspire confidence in everyone watching. “He just doesn’t have the skill set to run a big company like this, and he doesn’t have the skill set to turn it around, either,” says Howard Penney, a consumer analyst at Hedgeye Risk Management.

Penney said Chipotle’s three major missteps were taking too long to admit there was a problem, giving away millions of dollars of free food to try and fix it, and continuing to build more restaurants in spite of it.

That’s going to be some challenge for Ells to fix.