Chipotle’s first big menu test in CEO Brian Niccol’s tenure will bank on bacon. The chain announced August 9 that it’s piloting two new menu items and promotions in select cities nationwide “as part of its overall commitment to make the brand more accessible and give fans the food they love when they want it.”
The first is Applewood Smoked Bacon. Chipotle said the product received “a tremendous response” from customers at its NEXT kitchen in New York City. This September, bacon will expand to an eight-restaurant operations test in Orange County, California, before being considered for a full-market test.
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"Consumers have always said 'everything tastes better with bacon' and that is exactly what we confirmed in our New York test kitchen," said Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer, in a release. "We found consumers added bacon to their traditional bowls, burritos, tacos, and nachos while also enjoying new items such as the BLT quesadilla with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheese grilled to perfection." Quesadillas are currently only available in the NEXT kitchen, Chipotle added.
Up next: nachos. Following positive results in a 10-unit test, the product is expanding to full-market tests in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul this October. These include corn tortilla chips topped with a revamped, “genuine” queso, and choice of meat, beans, salsas, and lettuce.
Additionally, Chipotle is making moves in the late-night sector, which has been a topic of conversation for Niccol and executives in recent conference calls.
Through September 30, customers at participating Miami and Dallas locations can now get $2 tacos with the purchase of any drink after 8 p.m. These restaurants will also stay open later, until 11 p.m. to help “satisfy demand for food experiences outside of standard business hours,” Chipotle said.
There’s also another pilot underway that offers customers at select Philadelphia and Indianapolis restaurants the option to add regular-sized chips and a fountain drink to their entrée order for $3.
"A cornerstone of our new strategy is to make Chipotle more culturally relevant and to meet our customers where they are with flavorful food they can feel good about eating," Brandt added. "We know that Chipotle is a great place to start or end the night, which is why we're excited to test this pilot with our Miami and Dallas night owl fans."
Chipotle said these promotions are being tested via its new “stage-gate process,” which allows the company to test, learn, listen to customer feedback, and iterate extensively before deciding on a national launch. In other terms, it’s far removed from the queso and chorizo launches of past.
Chipotle’s same-store sales lifted 3.3 percent this past quarter. Revenue upped 8 percent to 2.4 billion thanks to the opening of 34 new restaurants. Price hikes and queso add-ons helped drive comp sales, the company said.
At the time, Niccol who arrived in March from his CEO post at Taco Bell, said it was too early to comment on menu changes, but the chain was just getting ready to use its stage-gate process to move a handful of initiatives from its NEXT Kitchen into an actual test market, where Chipotle can “really have true learnings of customer experience, team-member experience, and then how that plays out on total Chipotle performance.”
And it all starts with bacon.