A faltering Chipotle has stumbled yet again, this time losing its place as the No. 1 casual, fast Mexican restaurant to a chain that has about a third the number of eateries as Chipotle, USA Today reports. With more than 650 restaurants to Chipotle's 1,900-plus, Moe's Southwest Grill is now the new king of that particular category, according to a Harris Poll survey that queried nearly 100,000 consumers on more than 3,800 brands (including about 60 restaurants). And Chipotle, in the top spot for three years running before it fell victim to a slew of recent food-safety issues, didn't merely drop to second place—it plummeted to fifth, behind Taco Bell, Qdoba, and Baja Fresh. Competition in the category has been fierce, with Mexican eateries all trying to one-up each other in serving up healthier menu items with more selection. USA Today notes that Moe's is especially known for the ample variety of ingredients used to create build-your-own tacos, burritos, and other fare.
But it's almost as if Chipotle gave up, debuting few new menu items and taking a halfhearted approach to alerting consumers to steps it's taken to address the hundreds of illnesses—the New York Post helpfully documents the norovirus, E. coli, and salmonella count—that have resulted from chowing down its food. "I just don't think they did enough to convince customers that Chipotle food was safe to eat," an equity research analyst tells USA Today. Plus, Moe's made sure to capitalize on Chipotle's woes, taking out a full-page ad in USA Today on Feb. 8, for instance, reminding everyone its restaurants were open—Chipotle shut down that day to review food-safety protocol with staff, Eater notes. "Moe’s [now] has an opportunity to continue to convert that brand equity into restaurant visits, closing the visitation gap with Chipotle," the CEO of analytics company Placed Insights tells USA Today. (Next up for Chipotle: burgers?)