Chipotle’s Once-Rigid Menu Expected to Change Under New CEO

Change is in the air for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s menu, which largely remained the same for the restaurant chain’s quarter-century history.

Photographer: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

The company will begin testing a new non-dessert offering on Friday, spokesman Chris Arnold said in an email Wednesday. More items should follow under new Chief Executive Officer Brian Niccol, who takes the reins in March after jumping on board from Taco Bell.

The question is, how far he’ll go.

Chipotle has used its New York restaurant to experiment. Recently, it tried out frozen margaritas — a test that’s since spread to Austin, Texas. The kitchen has also tried salad greens with an avocado citrus dressing.

While it’s unlikely that Niccol had anything to do with Friday’s test, Maxim Group analyst Stephen Anderson expects menu changes to accelerate under the new chief. Taco Bell is known for pushing the fast-food boundaries, like using taco shells made out of fried chicken or Doritos.

“Do I think he’ll bring Doritos Locos Tacos or breakfast?” he said, referring to popular Taco Bell menu offerings that were introduced under Niccol. “No, but I think there are some pieces of the menu where he could do some innovation.”

Chipotle has struggled with new items: Bunuelos, a fried-tortilla dessert,

flopped
during its run in the test kitchen. Its take on queso, the gooey nacho cheese, has failed to boost customer traffic.

Earlier this month, Chipotle said it would have another dessert in its test restaurant soon.

On the company’s latest earnings call, founder and Chairman Steve Ells pointed to the possibility of nachos and quesadillas. He also mentioned salads and different kinds of grains, while underscoring the challenge of maintaining speed on the company’s signature assembly line.

“These are things that customers are asking for,” he said.

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