Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. was upgraded to neutral from underperform at Bank of America based on the results of the bank's survey, which found consumer willingness to return to the embattled restaurant chain. Bank of America surveyed 1,000 people and found high awareness about the E. coli issues the company has faced (85% said they were aware) and the norovirus outbreak (62% said they were aware). The number of respondents who view Chipotle as a healthy food option fell to 32% from 44%. But of the more than 600 who were aware of the Chipotle brand, aware of either health issues and had eaten at a Chipotle in the last year, 32% said they continue to eat there as frequently as before, 12% said they're going, but less often and 46% said they stopped but would go back. Only 11% said they stopped eating there and wouldn't return. Bank of America analysts believe there are risks to Chipotle stock, including long-term brand damage, but believe there's sales potential, based on informal channel checks. The CDC declared the E. coli outbreaks over on Monday. Chipotle shares are down 7% in Wednesday trading and down 39% for the past 12 months. The S&P is down 8% for the past year.
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