Chipotle CEO Adds Another Taco Bell Veteran in Comeback Bid
(Bloomberg) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which has struggled to emerge from from a string of high-profile illness outbreaks, is getting another veteran of Taco Bell to help the company with its P.R. reset.
Chris Brandt, who helmed marketing at Taco Bell as well as other chains such as Outback Steakhouse, will take over as Chipotle’s chief marketing officer on April 2. He was brought on board by new Chief Executive Officer Brian Niccol, who himself came from the Mexican-themed fast-food chain.
The move suggests that Chipotle’s makeover will draw inspiration from the marketing at Taco Bell, a chain known for its brash ads and quirky dishes. But Brandt’s chief concern is restoring the reputation of Chipotle after its food-safety crisis sent sales and the company’s stock plunging.
“Having worked with Chris in the past, I have seen first-hand his ability to generate sales overnight and build brands over time,” Niccol said in a statement. His experience fits in “as we look to reinvigorate this exceptional brand, and build sales, transactions and profitability.”
Chipotle said earlier this month that Mark Crumpacker was stepping down from that role. He had struggled for years to improve the company’s reputation after an E. coli outbreak and other hiccups, including a hacker attack. Niccol took over as CEO earlier this month, replacing longtime leader and founder Steve Ells.
Marketing is Chipotle’s “first order of business ,” said Sara Senatore, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. “With Niccol’s and now Brandt’s leadership, it should be a meaningful top-line driver.”
Chipotle shares have gained about 11 percent this year, a sign investors are optimistic about Niccol’s comeback bid. They had dropped 23 percent last year, the third straight year of declines.
Brandt’s most-recent job was running a team of 75 at Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands Inc., which also operates Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s.
Crumpacker emphasized Chipotle’s simple ingredients during his tenure, and even took swipes at the additive-laden menus of fast-food rivals. Brandt, in contrast, was responsible for some of Taco Bell’s more outlandish foods -- including Doritos Locos Tacos and the quesalupa.
On Tuesday, Brandt vowed to increase Chipotle’s “relevance with consumers.”
“I’m excited to join the company during this pivotal time,” he said.
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