The current darling in the restaurant world in undoubtedly Chipotle (NYSE:CMG). The company has seen its share price increase roughly 65% over the last year and its most recent earnings report did not disappoint. I want to look at some of the traits of Chipotle's success and see if we can find other potential stars in the restaurant world.
Creating "fast casual"
One reason for Chipotle's success is found in the fact that Chipotle has differentiated itself rather well. The company has created an identity different from fast food places like Taco Bell and sit-down Mexican/southwestern style restaurants. With quality fresh ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere the company essentially invented the "fast casual" concept.
Another restaurant that has done a good job creating a different identity is Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD). While it might be wrong to say Buffalo Wild Wings is unique, they are still different from the seemingly ubiquitous bar-and-grill type of restaurants that are in or near every shopping center in the country. The restaurant has done a very good job of creating a focused identity: you want to watch a sporting event with beer and bar food you go to Buffalo Wild Wings.
This brand identification at least partially explains why the company is outperforming many rivals. It is hard for consumers to differentiate between an Applebees, a Chili's, a Ruby Tuesday, or TGIF. Struggling to grow profits in such a crowded field where many look all the same is not a problem Buffalo Wild Wings share with these companies.
Don't get too complicated
Similar to Chipotle Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA.DL) has emphasized fresh quality ingredients in a casual atmosphere. The company has seen revenues increase over 80% over the last 5 years. A remarkable run that makes it one of the strongest restaurant stocks of the decade.
But the company appears to have hit a rough patch. It saw same store sales only increase a measly 0.1% and year over year transactions decline almost 3% in its most recent quarter.
Management blamed the problems on operational issues and increased competition. I believe Panera is also making its menu too complicated. One aspect that makes Chipotle so popular is the simplicity of its menu. Panera Bread recently introduced several new beverage options that appear needlessly complicated.
A Caribbean Chipotle?
Fiesta Restaurant Group's (NASDAQ:FRGI) Pollo Tropical restaurants have set out to capitalize on the popularity of fast casual. Where Chipotle offers customers high quality fresh ingredients prepared fast and in front of the customer, Pollo Tropical offers a similar menu with a Caribbean theme.
Surprisingly, Pollo Tropical beats Chipotle in annual sales per restaurant-registering $2.7 million compared to Chipotle's $2.2 million.
There is tremendous upside to Fiesta Restaurant Group as its Pollo Tropical restaurants have a relatively small footprint in the southeast United States. As it continues to expand investors may be looking at the next Chipotle.
Still much growth potential with these companies
While Chipotle continues to impress, investors will do well to check out other companies that are doing similar things. Buffalo Wild Wings should continue to grow, while Fiesta Restaurant Group very well could see huge growth with its Pollo Tropical brand.