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Chipotle picks up its menu innovation pace with a new chicken recipe

The fast casual is testing chili-spiced Pollo Asado alongside its traditional chicken offering at 95 restaurants in Cincinnati and Sacramento.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Photo courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Tuesday said it is testing a spiced-up riff on its chicken recipe, the chain’s first time tinkering with its most popular protein in its nearly 30-year history.

Chipotle’s new Pollo Asado joins its traditional Adobo Chicken on the menu at 95 restaurants throughout Cincinnati and Sacramento. The new poultry flavor features garlic, lime juice, guajillo peppers and cilantro.

“Chicken has long been the top protein choice among Chipotle guests,” CMO Chris Brandt said in a statement. “We decided it was time to add another option and our new flavorful Pollo Asado chicken is another perfect complement to our real ingredients.”

The Pollo Asado is grilled in small batches and seasoned with a dry rub of cumin, guajillo peppers and coriander.

For much of its history, Newport Beach, Calif.-based Chipotle was not known as a chain with a particularly robust menu development pipeline. But the burrito brand has stepped up its menu innovation recently, noticing that LTOs and new items are a winning lure for diners.

“We introduced new menu items on a regular cadence as it helps bring in additional customers, drive frequency with existing users, and gives us an opportunity to create buzz around the brand,” CEO Brian Niccol told analysts during an earnings call last month.

Even before testing Pollo Asado, Chipotle had rolled out three new menu items so far this year: Smoked Brisket, Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice and quesadillas. Plant-based chorizo is also being tested in select markets.

Smoked Brisket, which took two years to develop, will end its run as a limited-time offer later this month, though it will likely make a comeback. The premium protein has led to an increase in both check size and transactions, Niccol said.

Chipotle also uses the new menu items as a driver of digital sales and rewards sign-ups. Quesadillas, for example, are only available to order via the chain’s app and website. For Pollo Asado, Chipotle is offering free delivery via its digital channels.

But new menu items also add to operational complexity for a 2,892-unit chain that struggles at times to balance its in-restaurant orders with its digital ones.

Niccol told analysts last month that Chipotle was missing out on sales because of being forced to “throttle back our digital business” so workers could prepare food for on-premise customers.

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