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Why Chipotle is handing out free burritos for the next month

Get your free burrito. Actual size may vary.
Get your free burrito. Actual size may vary.
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Yes, you need more fattening burritos in your life. And you're in luck: today is Chipotle's big free burrito promotion. If you go into the store today and order one of the company's sofritas (read: tofu) menu items, you can keep your receipt and bring it back for a free burrito in the next month.

Yes, it's a food giveaway, but you can see how this would be great business for the company, for a few reasons. One is that it gets lots of people in the door today, and a lot of those people are bound to lose their receipts or simply forget about the promotion within the next month. Consider that redemption rates for coupons are fantastically low at retailers. According to retail technology company Inmar, only around 6.6 percent of on-receipt coupons (think those coupons you get on your super-long CVS receipts) were redeemed in 2012. That's not quite the same as what Chipotle is doing, but even if Chipotle's customers happen to redeem far more of their receipts than consumers usually do, it still signals that Chipotle probably won't have to hand out nearly all the free burritos it promises today.

Another is that it gets people to try the company's relatively unpopular sofritas — as of July last year, sofritas accounted for only only 3.5 percent of the company's sales. This seems particularly important as the company comes away from a meat supply snafu. Earlier this month, Chipotle found that one of its pork suppliers had violated the restaurant's animal welfare standards, causing Chipotle to pull its carnitas filling from 600 restaurants. Tofu is also often cheaper than meat (that said, Chipotle insists it has similar margins on tofu as it does to chicken).

And promoting its meat-free options is also a brand-building exercise for the company. Chipotle has made humanely-raised meat a big part of its brand (something that the carnitas shortage, unfortunate as it was for the company, helped promote). Hawking its non-meat burrito filling only helps to bolster its animal-friendly image.

It could also be a hard sell to get more Americans to choose tofu over meat. According to Gallup, only 5 percent of Americans identified as vegetarian in 2012, and 2 percent were vegan. Then again, Americans' meat consumption has started to fall off in recent years, meaning Chipotle might be able to interest Americans trying to cut back on their animal-eating.