Chipotle Says Sales Recovering, but Down 26 Percent in February

Chipotle says sales were down 26 percent for February and that it expects to report a loss for the first quarter as it works to recover from a series of food scares.

That would mark the first quarterly loss for the Denver company since it went public in 2006.

The company had previously said it expected its per-share results to be "around break even" for the period, after taking into account higher costs for marketing, promotions and tightened food safety to win back customers. The drop in sales for February at established locations follows a 36 percent decline for January. The February results were boosted by the extra day in month this year, the company said.

Chipotle earnings drop 36 percent after E.coli and norovirus scares 0:23

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Sales at established locations, or those open at least 13 months, are seen as an important gauge of financial health because they remove the volatility of newly opened and closed locations.

Chipotle is trying to bounce back after an E. coli outbreak and other incidents sent sales plummeting starting at the end of October. Executive have since said they've taken steps to ensure food safety and that the incidents are behind them. To get customers back in stores, the chain known for its burritos and bowls is being more aggressive with marketing and promotions.

The company said its sales recovery began the week of Feb. 8, when it offered people a chance to get coupons for free burritos on their mobile phones. It said the recovery continued into March, with its sales decline easing to 22 percent for the first week of the month.

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But in the second week of March, a restaurant in the Boston area was temporarily closed after workers were reported to be sick. No customers were sickened in association, the company said. But it proved to be a setback in the chain's recovery, with the sales decline deepening to 27 percent.