Chipotle revamps 3-month-old queso recipe

Months after betting a new all-natural queso would win back lost customers, Chipotle Mexican Grill is tweaking the recipe.

The troubled fast casual confirmed to Business Insider that the recipe is being changed, though the revamped sauce remains additive-free. Business Insider staffers who tried the revised version described it as less grainy and less prone to congeal when it sits for a few minutes. They said the smoky flavor of the original is still there, but with a slightly different taste that seems more evenly distributed.

The revamped version is apparently being offered only at Chipotle’s public test kitchen in New York City, where it is also available as part of a new nachos option. Chipotles elsewhere do not offer nachos, and the use of queso is limited to a dipping sauce and a component of other dishes.

Queso was introduced chainwide in September to decidedly mixed reviews. The consistency of the sauce was blasted on social media, yet Chipotle said the sauce was ordered by 15% of customers.

Important to Chipotle’s turnaround, the product proved an effective lure for new and lapsed customers, according to Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and strategy officer for the burrito chain.

“About 19% of these new and returning customers are trying queso,” Crumpacker told Wall Street in October. “We know that each of these visits is essentially a test run of Chipotle.”

Chipotle has been struggling to regain customers after a series of food-safety outbreaks were traced back to the chain in late 2015. Transactions dropped by more than 20% in the months afterward, and store sales have yet to climb back to pre-crisis levels. Executives say a key part of that drop-off has been the alienation of high-frequency customers.

Queso was seen as a key way of drawing those lapsed patrons back into units. Chipotle officials noted that the addition of queso was the No. 1 request of customers, but the chain balked at complying because it could not develop a version that eliminated additives. It announced with fanfare this summer that it had cracked the code.

The revamp is the first major change for Chipotle following last week's announcement that founder and CEO Steve Ells would surrender day-to-day involvement with the chain as soon as a successor is found. 

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