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Chipotle Kills Chorizo for All the Wrong Reasons

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Sep 22, 2017 at 9:26AM

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The struggling burrito roller is nixing its spicy pork-and-chicken sausage to make more room for queso.

The push for chorizo to be the protein savior for Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG 1.04%) has come to shove. The burrito roller confirmed to CNBC on Monday that it's getting rid of the savory pork-and-chicken sausage.

Quick-service eateries shake up their menus all of the time. Taco Bell fans don't expect the Waffle Taco, the Enchirito, or the new Naked Egg Taco to last forever. They're transitory menu additions meant to spark novelty interest. However, Chipotle doesn't play that game. When it does add something, it tends to gain a permanent home on its assembly line. But chorizo's on the way out, and the worst thing is that it's leaving for all the wrong reasons.

A chorizo burrito on a plate with a side of chips and salsa.

Image source: Chipotle.

Farewell to farms

"When we decided to move forward with the national rollout of queso, we opted to replace chorizo on the line with queso, so chorizo is going away," Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold revealed in an email to CNBC on Monday.

Chipotle introduced queso nationwide last week, and if initial reactions are any indication the marketplace isn't exactly loving the chain's version of the goopy cheese sauce. Negative reviews are far outweighing the positive social media mentions, something that doesn't bode well for queso remaining on the menu in its present form for much longer. 

The Chipotle outlet I went to over the weekend had simply replaced the long rectangular chorizo protein tray with two smaller square ones -- one with chorizo and the other with queso. The chain's admission that chorizo is going away suggests that Chipotle will be doubling down on queso, something that sounds like a big mistake if it's making that call based on initial sales. A lot of people are trying queso right now, but it's hard to find a lot of them that will do so again given the knocks on the consistency and taste of Chipotle's all-natural proxy. Chipotle's needlessly removing one item for another where demand is likely to fade and fade sharply. 

Chorizo wasn't universally loved either, but it had the potential to be so much more than just a fringe protein choice at the chain. If Chipotle was to ever follow other quick-service chains into breakfast -- a cry that was common when the chain's fandom was peaking two years ago -- it would've been nice to have chorizo as a morning menu offering.

Queso in its present form may do more harm than good if it keeps loading up social media sites with Chipotle bashing. There's a brand to protect here, and chorizo -- despite its lack of popularity -- at least didn't inspire the kind of negative backlash that we're seeing with queso. The only silver lining in eliminating chorizo entirely is if Chipotle plans to quickly push out a more conventional queso that will have the smoother taste and creamier consistency that consumers associate with the premium-priced topping at rival concepts. Eliminating chorizo gives it the room to offer two half-trays of Chipotle queso and classic queso. 

An argument can be made that Chipotle aimed too high for foodie approval with chorizo. The Spanish sausage is a popular product at gourmet Mexican table-service restaurants and authentic food trucks, but it just isn't resonating with Chipotle's audience. However, isn't that also the same argument for not going with a soupy and pungent topping that it's trying to pass off as queso? Eliminating chorizo is fine, Chipotle, but just make sure that you're replacing it with something better.

Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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