There was little doubt menu innovation would be part of Brian Niccol’s reenergized vision. This is, after all, the same executive who formerly helmed Taco Bell, the brand responsible for turning an iconic tortilla chip into a taco and a made a habit of wrapping its ingredients in things like chicken, eggs, and once even put Pop Rocks in a burrito.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Chipotle is sending five new menu items to its New York City test kitchen, with national rollout in mind. They are: quesadillas, nachos, chocolate milkshakes, avocado tostadas, and an updated salad.
Quesadillas have long been an issue of sorts for Chipotle. Some units offer them as an off-menu item, but Chipotle has never pushed the product for logistical reasons. The NYT says it takes two and a half minutes to cook a quesadilla, which simply doesn’t play in the brand’s make-line-driven universe. The grills you see can warm up tortillas in a few seconds. Anything more would be a serious threat to the throughput so critical to Chipotle’s day-to-day business.
“The worst-case scenario is the person in front of you orders a quesadilla,” Niccol told the NYT. There’s a small cheese quesadilla on the children’s menu, but an adult’s version, with meats, salsas, and so forth, wouldn’t work with the current setup. Niccol said they’re working to fix that.
The five items will hit the NEXT test kitchen in Manhattan and then expand, with tweaks expected along the way. Niccol also told the NYT that Chipotle plans to add one or two promotional items during the year. LTOs have not been a part of Chipotle’s DNA to date.
“There are certain items that people are willing to switch up their order with, but it’s not going to become their permanent go-to order. Ultimately, they’re going to go back to ordering chicken or steak or the barbacoa,” he said in the story.
Chipotle will likely take a more deliberate approach to menu innovation after its queso introduction last fall. The brand revamped its recipe in December after negative customer response, including the common complaint about its grainy texture.
The fast casual has already made a host of changes and hinted at several others since Niccol arrived March 5. One is the brand’s decision to move its headquarters from Denver to Newport Beach, California. Taco Bell is based in Orange County as well.
Chipotle’s new OC headquarters will fold in departments from both its Denver and New York City offices including finance, supply chain, food safety, technology, human resources, and business development, among other functions. In addition to the move, Chipotle will close its Denver and New York offices, which will affect some 400 corporate employees; an undisclosed amount of whom are being offered relocation packages.
Chipotle had a solid first quarter in Niccol’s first report as CEO. The chain earned $2.13 per share on $1.15 billion in revenue, which crushed Thomson Reuters’ estimate of $1.57 per share on $1.147 billion in revenue. Comparable same-store sales climbed 2.2 percent, year-over-year, topping StreetAccount’s call of 1.3 percent.
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