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Chipotle's digital sales grew 81% during the first quarter even as foot traffic plummeted. Its chief marketing officer reveals how the company got there.


  • While the restaurant industry is getting pummeled by the coronavirus, Chipotle's recent digital investments have helped it weather the crisis.
  • Its digital sales are up thanks to its focus on delivery, online orders, revamped app and a new loyalty program, chief marketing officer Chris Brandt said.
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The restaurant industry is getting pummeled by the coronavirus, but Chipotle's recent digital investments have helped it weather the crisis.

Digital sales grew 81% during the quarter and more than doubled in March, as the rest of the industry grapples with declining foot-traffic and consumer spending.

"We pivoted to digital, and we're certainly bearing the fruit of that now," Chipotle's chief marketing officer Chris Brandt told Business Insider.

Chipotle has gone through a digital overhaul in recent years

Under CEO Brian Niccol, the company has recovered from food safety troubles and invested in digital initiatives like delivery and online ordering, its app, and a new loyalty program.

Partnerships with companies including Venmo, DoorDash, and Uber Eats have also boosted business.

Then when the pandemic hit, Chipotle shifted ad spending from live sports on TV to digital and online channels and streaming services like Hulu and Roku and emphasized free delivery in its ads.

"A lot of it went to streaming services, and then we tripled our spend in digital and social, which was already pretty good to begin with," Brandt said of Chipotle's advertising budget. "It was a big shift, and it was right away."

Facing production restrictions under the pandemic, Chipotle also used old footage to create ads pushing free delivery and directed food shoots over FaceTime, he said.

It's increased customer targeting

Brandt also said Chipotle has also used its customer-relationship management program to ramp up targeting to get regular store visitors to become delivery customers using targeted social-media ads and direct-marketing emails, for example. The company has close to 12 million people in its database, he said.

In other steps that increased digital sales, Chipotle increased hourly employee pay by 10%, giving first-quarter bonuses, and adding bag stuffers and a new tamper-evidence sticker on delivery orders to show the food is safe. The company has also delivered 100,000 free burritos to health-care workers.

"It's always been hard to bring that up, but that's never been more relevant than now, and gives us the chance to talk about some of the safety practices that we've put in place," Brandt said.

SEE ALSO: Here's how Burger King, Chipotle, Domino's, and Subway are adapting their marketing as customers move to a delivery-based future

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