Irene Adibi MBA ’16 and her team helped launch some of the latest Chipotle menu items—including queso blanco, cauliflower rice and the hand-crafted quesadilla.

Innovating Through a Pandemic: Irene Adibi MBA ’16 on Chipotle’s Newest Launches

June 09, 2021 • By Xanat Hernandez

Irene Adibi MBA ’16 initially pursued a career in broadcast journalism, receiving her bachelor’s degree in communications. However, she quickly discovered an interest in the business side of communications that brand marketing entails.

To pursue this interest, Adibi enrolled in the Full-Time MBA program at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business.

“Getting an MBA at the Merage School helped take my career in marketing to the next level,” said Adibi. “I enjoyed the small class sizes and the really passionate and dedicated Career Center.”

While at the School, Adibi was involved in Women in Business and the Merage Student Association—forming connections and personal relationships that continue to this day.

In addition to the guidance she received at the Merage School Career Center, Adibi enjoyed learning how to navigate large organizations effectively in her Power and Politics class and the access she had to local businesses.

“One of the most exciting memories from my time at the Merage School was getting the chance to pitch a marketing plan to the executive team at Dry Bar,” said Adibi. “Getting hands-on experience is a huge advantage of the program.”

Her experiences paid off—landing her internships and full-time job offers from Edwards LifeSciences, Endologix and Mattel, Inc. Her passion for direct-to-consumer marketing and storytelling drove her decision to accept the opportunity at Mattel, where she served as associate marketing manager and later manager of global brand marketing for three years.

Adibi credits her drive to succeed to her mother and her upbringing. She watched her mother, a single mom of two girls, juggle a full-time job and completing college classes at night. Hard work and education were valued above all else.

“When you don’t have a safety net, you learn to hustle,” she explained. “I had no choice but to make it, and that ended up being a great gift instead of a limitation.”

From Toys to Burritos

Adibi was waiting for the perfect job opportunity in Orange County—and Chipotle proved to be just that. She had always admired the brand for being a leader in serving real, fresh food to the masses and was eager to be a part of the brand’s purpose of cultivating a better world.  

The brand’s core values proved to be more relevant than ever throughout the global pandemic as teams across the organization found ways to drive purpose felt at local community levels and drive sales through national launches. Adibi worked on brand campaigns for two of the restaurant’s latest launches—queso blanco and cauliflower rice.

“Across the organization, people rallied to find creative solutions on how to test and ultimately launch these menu items,” she said. “The resilience and passion that our team members in and out of our restaurants have to always deliver a great experience for our customers is incredible. 

The queso blanco launch was a successful comfort menu item during the pandemic and cauliflower rice, launched in January 2021, targeted hungry customers looking to limit their carbs and reset their health goals. Adibi was also part of the team that launched the digital-exclusive hand-crafted quesadilla – Chipotle’s first entrée in 17-years.

“Once you try our quesadilla, you can’t help but crave it again, and it’s so easy and convenient to order in our app so people keep coming back,” said Adibi. “This menu item is really a testament to how we prioritize digital, even with new menu innovations.”

The Chipotle app and the online ordering system, already in place before the pandemic, helped ensure Chipotle’s success during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Even before COVID, we were very digitally focused and made sure we were where the consumer was, and I would say that digital innovation is driving the Chipotle experience more than ever before,” she said.

Adibi enjoys continuing to find new and innovative ways to tell the Chipotle brand story, leveraging her interest in health and wellness to illustrate Chipotle’s mission statement: “We believe that food has the power to change the world.”