Business Column

Chipotle’s burrito delivery drones smell like success

/ The Daily Orange

After a year that seemed to go from disaster to disaster, Chipotle is being saved by the bell. Or, rather, saved by the drone.

Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, is working with Chipotle to introduce its new pilot program, which will mesh drones with food delivery. Last week, Chipotle announced members of the Virginia Tech University community will be the taste testers of the drone delivery program.

Because drones are such a hot-button topic in today’s world, Chipotle’s temporary drone-delivery program is a smart way to market its products and rebound from its major e-coli outbreak earlier this year. And as a college full of technology-minded and hungry students, Virginia Tech is a really smart place to pilot it. What better cure to midnight munchies than an incoming burrito on a drone?

Adding drones to the mix — even if it’s just for a pilot program at Virginia Tech — will allow Chipotle to reposition its brand to be more delivery-friendly, which is vital for restaurants near college campuses like Syracuse University. Though the company’s brand will still be positioned on the high-end of traditional fast food, the pilot drone program shows it’s becoming more innovative and competing on a level no other restaurant is currently on.

The expectation for the program is for the drones to drop off the food directly to the customer’s location, which allows Chipotle to not pay for delivery drivers and still compete in the delivery arena. The burritos will be prepared in food trucks on Virginia Tech’s campus and then attached to the drones, according to Bloomberg Technology.

We are always looking for ways to better serve our customers and eager to see how aerial delivery could be a part of that in the years to come, allowing us to reach more customers in remote locations,” said Danielle Moore, public relations and communications manager at Chipotle, in an email. “We anticipate learning a lot about if and how customers would like to receive their Chipotle meals by air.”

Chipotle has not been on its A-game for most of the year. At the end of the second quarter in late July, Chipotle’s profits were down 82 percent from the previous summer, according to CNN Money. The profit plummet can mostly blamed on the restaurant’s two infamous e. coli outbreaks, which sprouted at the end of 2015.

Even before the quarterly report of profits being down was announced, Chipotle executive Mark Crumpacker was charged with seven counts of cocaine possession in early July, according to CNN Money. Adding insult to injury, about 10,000 current and former Chipotle employees sued the company for not paying them for worked hours at the end of August.

It’s clear Chipotle has had a rough year and is in desperate need of some rebranding. And while the drone delivery pilot program has some safety risks, high risks often bring high rewards when it comes to business.

“They did the right thing by closing stores until they could fix their problems with e. Coli,” said Breagin Riley, an assistant professor of marketing in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. “Now they need to work in smart, strategic to regain their market position, either by luring back old customers, attracting new customers, or both.”

Although SU is not on the radar for the drone pilot program, the initiative would work on practically any college campus because let’s be honest, everyone has cravings that need to be satisfied. But considering Virginia Tech is involved in the program because it wants to be a leading university in new transportation technology, SU would have to show an interest in that technology if it wants to participate in a program like this.

But who knows? Maybe SU students will one day see less of the Jimmy John’s delivery bike rider and more of a flying Chipotle burrito attached to a drone.

DeArbea Walker is a junior newspaper and online journalism, and marketing double major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at dbwalk01@syr.edu and followed on Twitter at @why_drb.

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