Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG -1.93%) has made investors rich over the years by pioneering the fast-casual restaurant concept using one of the world's most popular cuisines. The stock has more than tripled over the past five years, trouncing the S&P 500 during the same time.
While the past can definitely be used as a guide, investors rightfully only care about what the future holds. Chipotle's current positioning provides clues as to whether or not it can be a millionaire-maker stock. Let's take a bite.
Last year was extremely difficult for most restaurants, as state and local governments prohibited indoor dining service for some time to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Chipotle's second-quarter results reflected this -- and showed a way forward.
In April, the first full month of the shutdowns, Chipotle's comparable-store sales (or comps) decreased 24.4% from the same month in 2019. But this metric turned positive in June on the strength of Chipotle's digital infrastructure. During Q2, when nationwide stay-at-home orders had their greatest effect, Chipotle's digital sales (which include pick-up and delivery orders) skyrocketed 216.3% to account for 60.7% of overall sales in the period.
The company was able to serve its customers in ways that were most convenient for them. "Our investment in digital over the past few years has provided our customers with convenient access to Chipotle how and where they want it," CEO Brian Niccol said when discussing the company's Q2 results.
Key to this is the company's rewards program, which currently has 17 million enrolled members. This provides Chipotle the opportunity to build ongoing relationships with its customers by learning their order preferences and using contact information to communicate periodically.
Any business, let alone a restaurant chain, that wants to succeed today must utilize technology to enable growth. The pandemic allowed Chipotle's digital prowess to shine, and it will be needed to propel the company to millionaire-maker status.
Chipotle's total restaurant count is 2,710, so investors must be wondering how many more locations the company can open. Even after a disruptive year, management still believes that longer term, it can more than double its domestic store count. This would mean a total of more than 5,000 locations in the U.S.
This is wonderful news for investors, as it showcases a long growth runway ahead. Many of these new stores will be equipped with a drive-thru -- what the company calls a Chipotlane -- that customers can use to pick-up orders made ahead of time.
Additionally, the company recently opened its first Digital Kitchen, which doesn't offer dine-in seating but is designed for customers to pick up orders made in advance. This new store format is a way for Chipotle to enter more urban and non-traditional locations that can't support a full-size restaurant.
Again, this all ties back to the company's digital push. Consumers are increasingly hungry for more convenient ways to get their fixes, and Chipotle's proven ability to satisfy these cravings with new store formats will support continued growth in the future.
What about valuation?
For any stock to make millionaires out of its owners, it must be held for a long time and needs to be selling at an attractive valuation that can provide outsized future returns. While Chipotle's current price-to-earnings ratio around 160 is certainly not cheap, the business still exhibits tremendous growth potential.
However, investors need to think about whether the company's ambitious goals can be reached in order to justify the valuation. Doubling the domestic store count sounds wonderful, but there's definitely execution risk involved, especially with a shift to smaller-format layouts. And even though the digital initiatives are showcasing early success, it can be reasonably expected that the extraordinary growth in this channel will decelerate in a post-coronavirus world.
The stock has historically been a winning addition to any portfolio, but I think it's currently priced to perfection. Investors should be patient and wait for any pullback to begin buying shares.