Long avoided because of Chipotle’s stance on using industrial additives, added colors, flavors or preservatives, the fast casual brand is now testing queso in New York City.
In an internal memo sent to the company’s employees and cited by Eater, CEO Steve Ells say queso has been the most requested dish that’s not on the Chipotle menu.
“All of our competitors sell queso, and we know some customers don’t come to Chipotle because we don’t offer it,” Ells reportedly says in the memo, according to Eater. “But because we refuse to use industrial additives, added colors, flavors or preservatives in our food, it’s very difficult to make queso that meets our standards.”
Chipotle is serving the item at its NEXT test kitchen in New York City, alongside other new test dishes and drinks that include salad greens with an avocado-citrus vinaigrette, a frozen margarita, a virgin frozen strawberry margarita, and bunuelos dessert with chipotle-chocolate sauce. The public-facing test kitchen is part of the brand’s $50 million marketing plan as it seeks to bring in new and previous customers and increase sales after E. coli and norovirus outbreaks sickened customers in late 2015.
Chipotle’s public relations director Chris Arnold told QSR in an email that Chipotle has “not shared plans for broader testing or rollout of any of those items. The aim of the NEXT kitchen is to allow us to test things like new menu items, ingredients, cooking techniques and the like, in an environment where we can determine how they fit into our operations, and how consumers respond to them. From there, we will figure out what more we may want to do with them.”
Chipotle has traditionally been slow to introduce new menu items throughout its 24-year history. It debuted sofritas in 2014, followed by chorizo in 2016 and fried tortilla strips with honey, cinnamon, and sugar, called bunuelos, this year. Following the customer illnesses, Chipotle saw a nearly 30 percent decrease in same-restaurant sales in Q1 of 2016. But that is beginning to show signs of turning around this year, as comparable location sales were up nearly 18 percent the first quarter due to improved customer traffic, reduced promotional activity, and increased average check. The company will announce its Q2 2017 financials on July 25.