After a series of foodborne illness outbreaks that crushed its stock, fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) is the comeback story of 2018. After reaching nearly $750 per share in mid-2015, the stock plunged, losing two-thirds of its value and finally bottoming out early last year. Since then, the stock has soared, gaining more than 49% in 2018, making it among the best-performing stocks of the year.
The turnaround was the brainchild of CEO Brian Niccol, who joined the company in Feb. 2018. He brought Chipotle back from the brink with a series of initiatives that included remodeling stores, introducing new food items, and decreasing wait times.
Now Chipotle is tackling an area that could really move the needle: diets.
Something for everyone
Beginning on Wednesday, diners will have the option of choosing from a number of "Lifestyle Bowls" geared to those seeking healthier alternatives. Based on several popular diets, these meals cater to customers on the paleo, ketogenic, and Whole30 diet plans. It isn't a coincidence that these options were released just in time to serve those with New Year's resolutions to make healthier lifestyle choices.
"These first-to-category, diet-driven menu offerings are helping those who have committed to living a healthier lifestyle by making it easy to order delicious bowls that only contain the real ingredients permitted by certain diet regimens," Chipotle said in a press release.
A look at the ingredients in the new Lifestyle Bowls shows why they would appeal to dieters, or even those just looking to lower their calorie count.
- Whole30 Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, carnitas, fajita veggies, tomato salsa and guacamole
- Paleo Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, barbacoa, fajita veggies, green salsa and guacamole
- Keto Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, carnitas, red salsa, cheese and guacamole
- Double Protein Bowl: White rice, black beans, chicken (full portion), steak (full portion), red salsa, romaine lettuce and sour cream
Each of these diet plans has a very specific food regimen. The Whole30 diet eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy. The paleo diet, also known as the Stone Age diet, excludes dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, salt, alcohol, and coffee. The keto diet excludes foods high in sugars and starches, including bread, rice, pasta, alcohol, soda, candy, and some fruits.
Chipotle has long sought to keep the number of ingredients in its restaurants to a minimum and has resisted complicating the menu with too many items. The company has sidestepped this issue by developing bowls that use ingredients already on the menu.
Diners also win. Even though the company focuses on "food with integrity," containing fresh ingredients and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, customers have long decried the massive calorie count in many of Chipotle's signature offerings. Several studies have concluded that the average meal at Chipotle tops 1,000 calories and includes nearly a full day's allocation of sodium. By comparison, three of the four new diet-friendly bowls have fewer than 600 calories each, with the double protein bowl coming in at 815.
By providing options that cater to these popular diets, the company is serving a segment of the population that might otherwise avoid Chipotle. This might be the company's best move yet to increase its customer base and thereby boost sales.
Check out the latest Chipotle earnings call transcript.