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Chipotle looks to recover with temporary loyalty program

This  Feb. 8 photo shows a sign for the Chipotle restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Market Square. Chipotle is introducing a temporary loyalty program intended to get customers back into its stores following a series of food scares. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
This Feb. 8 photo shows a sign for the Chipotle restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Market Square. Chipotle is introducing a temporary loyalty program intended to get customers back into its stores following a series of food scares. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
Associated Press

NEW YORK – Chipotle is introducing a temporary loyalty program intended to get customers back into its stores following a series of food scares.

The Mexican food chain already has given away millions of burritos through coupons for entrees to try to fill up empty locations after an E. coli outbreak and norovirus cases last year sent sales plunging. In the first three months of this year, Chipotle’s sales at established locations were down about 30 percent.

On Monday, Chipotle said its “Chiptopia” loyalty program will reward people based on the number of times they visit each month, starting in July and running through September. The program has three reward levels, with more visits translating to more free entrees and other benefits.

Generally, people can earn a free entree after their fourth, eighth and 11th visit within a month.

The company, which has about 2,000 locations, said it will gauge feedback in its consideration of an ongoing rewards program.

The decision marks a reversal of sorts. Before the food scares last year, Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung had said that the company had been able to build loyalty “through more organic methods,” such as by educating people about how its food is raised. He said that since Chipotle already had such loyal customers, traditional loyalty programs did not make financial sense for the company.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has said its most loyal customers visit 25 times or more a year, which would be about two times a month.

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