Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) have soared recently. The stock is up nearly 70% over the past 12 months. Investors have been applauding the fast-casual restaurant's execution since it appointed a new CEO early last year. Under Brian Niccol's leadership, Chipotle has executed spectacularly on digital marketing, delivery, online ordering, the introduction of a loyalty program, and more. And now with comparable sales growth in the double-digits, it's fair to say the company is handily back in growth stock territory.
Adding more excitement to the narrative, an analyst gave Chipotle shares a $900 price target on Tuesday.
SunTrust reiterates a buy rating
SunTrust analyst Jake Bartlett reiterated a buy rating for Chipotle stock on Tuesday, increasing his 12-month price target for the stock from $815 to $900, citing the company's menu innovation efforts as a catalyst.
Specifically, Bartlett is optimistic about the prospects for the carne asada the burrito chain has been piloting. The analyst thinks Chipotle may roll out the new meat in mid-September, earlier than initially thought. When it does launch, the carne asada protein will increase the average ticket price and bring more traffic to its stores, he believes.
When discussing its menu innovation and the success of its new "Lifestyle Bowls" (bowls that cater to different popular diets such as paleo and keto) during its second-quarter earnings call, Niccol indicated its carne asada has been well-received in its tests and could launch soon.
On the heels of his optimistic view for carne asada and Chipotle's overall business, Bartlett also raised his estimates for the burrito chain's comparable restaurant sales for this year and next year.
Comparable restaurant sales in Chipotle's second quarter were up 10% year over year. Following its strong second quarter, management raised its guidance for comparable restaurant sales growth. The company now expects these sales to increase at a rate in the high single digits. Previously, management expected a growth rate in the mid to high single-digit range.
Niccol's next act
Menu innovation may very well be one of Chipotle's next major initiatives to drive growth at the company. In addition to its Lifestyle Bowls and its yet-to-launch carne asada, Chipotle has also been testing a quesadilla. Customers love this new item, too, Niccol said during its earnings call. Further, the new oven used for Chipotle's quesadilla menu item could open the door to other new items including desserts and nachos, the CEO added.
Combining the potential upside from menu innovation in the second half of 2019 and in 2020 with the company's momentum with growing its digital sales, Bartlett's bullish view for Chipotle makes sense.