Chipotle Mexican Grill's (NYSE:CMG)stock has fallen nearly 8% since the company reported quarterly results last week. Is this pullback a buying opportunity? To help you make that decision, here are the key takeaways from the burrito roller's earnings conference call.
This growth story is far from over
Chipotle remains one of the most impressive growth stories in the restaurant arena. Its rapid store count expansion and industry-leading same-store sales growth are driving strong gains in revenue and earnings per share. Chairman and Co-CEO Steve Ells commented on this during the earnings call:
2014 was an extraordinary year for our business and we are off to a strong start in 2015. During the quarter, we generated revenue of nearly $1.1 billion, an increase of 20% on comparable restaurant sales growth of 10.4% and the opening of 49 new restaurants. This produced diluted earnings of $3.88 per share, an increase of 47%. These results are particularly strong, considering that we were up against 13.4% same-store sales growth in Q1 last year and faced with harsh winter conditions in much of the country, including many important Chipotle markets.
Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung added:
Our average restaurant volumes have surpassed the $2.5 million mark for the first time, and it was just a little more than three years ago that our average volumes passed $2 million for the first time, meaning that we have been able to increase our average volumes by more than $500,000 per restaurant while adding more than 600 new restaurants during the past three years.
Chipotle is steadily increasing its revenue per location even as it expands its restaurant count at a healthy pace. That's a powerful formula for increased profit and cash flow, as well as outstanding shareholder returns.
The current pork shortage will not be the last
Chipotle's otherwise stellar results were marred by a pork shortage. In January, the fast-casual chain suspended one of its pork suppliers after a supply chain audit found that it was not fully compliant with Chipotle's standards. To its credit, Chipotle stayed true to its "Food With Integrity" mission and pulled this pork from its supply chain. However, as Ells noted during the call, that left the company with a pork shortage that affected a third of its restaurants:
When we found that one of our suppliers was falling short on some of our requirements, we knew that removing this pork from our supply was the right thing to do, but our decision left us without enough pork and the resulting outages affected more than one-third of our restaurants. While many of our customers were incredibly proud that we took a stand to do what was right, we also knew that there was risk involved and that we would encounter challenges in replacing the supply.
There is very little cushion today in the supply system for pork that meets our standards, and ultimately the solution requires increasing the number of pigs that are available. This does not happen quickly.
We have a strong history of establishing very high standards for food we serve. Standards that are very often hard to meet, given our requirements for the ingredients we use. We've encountered challenges from time to time since we began our journey to find the very best ingredients we can, and we do not anticipate our recent pork supply issue to be our last one.
Chipotle is working with its suppliers to increase their production of "Responsibly Raised" pork, but these initiatives will take time. Management expects the shortage to remain at more than one-third of its restaurants during the peak spring and summer periods.
Chipotle's reliance on the limited number of suppliers that can meet its high standards will likely result in future ingredient shortages. Investors should be aware of this risk.
Chipotle's marketing is unlike that of any other fast-food brand
Rather than focusing on massive marketing campaigns like many of its competitors, Chipotle benefits from customers who evangelize its food and mission on social media and by word-of-mouth, as explained by Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker:
Very early on, we decided to spend more on our ingredients and less on our marketing. It's always been our belief that better quality food prepared by hand and served by excellent teams would be the most powerful marketing of all. In fact, we were serving better ingredients including pasteurized dairy, local produce, and meats without antibiotics or hormones long before there was even significant customer demand for such things.
Over time, this has created powerful differentiation between Chipotle and other fast food brands. This approach has served us well and our ongoing marketing research makes us confident that this is the case. Chipotle has become quite buzzworthy with awareness coming from social media, public relations, advertising, and our local and event marketing programs, but with less reliance on traditional advertising than many of our competitors.
Spending less on advertising allows Chipotle to invest more in its food and people. That creates a virtuous cycle that leads to further increases in customer satisfaction and -- often free -- publicity.
Promoting from within is paying dividends
Chipotle is committed to investing in its employees and developing leaders from within its ranks of crew members. Management believes this has a direct impact on its operations, as co-CEO Monty Moran explained:
By hiring only top-performing employees and developing them to be at their very best, we are able to do things in our restaurants that other restaurant companies simply can't do. Not only are our teams running extraordinary restaurants, preparing delicious food using classic cooking techniques, and providing exceptional customer service, they're also elevating the people around them. This approach to running our restaurants is what enables us to create such an extraordinary dining experience and to deliver such strong unit economics.
In the past year, Chipotle promoted more than 10,500 crew members into management positions. More than 78% of its "restaurateurs" -- the company's most elite restaurant managers who are all hand-picked by the CEOs -- started as crew members. Undoubtedly, these types of advancement opportunities improve morale and retention, and enable Chipotle to attract some of the best talent in the industry.
The future is bright
Several macro trends are helping to fuel Chipotle's current growth and point to more share gains in the years ahead. Ells explained this well during the conference call:
While the commitments we make and the way we run our business can be difficult, they are also helping to differentiate Chipotle and enabling us to build stronger relationships with our customers, particularly younger customers. New research out during the quarter from investment firm shows that the fast casual sector has surpassed casual dining in terms of frequency of visits, with 45% of consumers saying that they spend more money eating out in 2014, up from 37% in 2013 and pointing to gains in popularity among fast casual restaurants. In this study, Chipotle was named as the favorite restaurant more than any other with twice as many mentions as the number two company on the list.
Another study shows that millennials, key customers for Chipotle, are eating out at fast casual restaurants more than Generation Xers or boomers and that their dissatisfaction with traditional fast food is higher than other generations. We believe that the loyalty that we are building with key customer groups is very much a result of our commitment to doing what is right, in addition to the excellent customer service that we provide.
With people of all ages becoming more concerned about what they eat -- and with Chipotle's focus on quality food resonating particularly well with younger consumers -- Chipotle remains extremely well positioned to profit from the trend toward healthier living.