Sweetgreen pokes fast-casual rival with debut of a Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl

The LTO is Sweetgreen's first bowl with no lettuce and marks an ongoing move to capture the dinner depart.
Sweetgreen Chipotle Chicken Bowl
The new Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl is part of the new spring menu that starts this week./Photo courtesy of Sweetgreen.

Still think of Sweetgreen as a salad concept? Think again.

As part of its new spring menu, the fast-casual chain on March 30 is scheduled to debut a new Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl, which will feature the chain’s blackened chicken over a double serving of wild rice, alongside new lime-cilantro black beans and a house-roasted chipotle salsa. The limited-time offer also includes sliced tomatoes and cabbage.

But don’t call it a salad, brand officials insist.

Sweetgreen’s new Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl is the first to launch without any lettuce. That’s zero leafy greens.

Nicolas Jammet, Sweetgreen co-founder and chief concept officer, said in a statement the bowl “is our answer to heartier meal options that can be enjoyed any time of the day. Inspired by bold chipotle spices, this protein-heavy option balances a brand new flavor profile for Sweetgreen, with whole grains and better-for-you ingredients that our customers love.”

It’s a dish that veers directly into arch-rival Chipotle Mexican Grill’s territory—Chipotle being a concept that has enviable strength across both the lunch and dinner dayparts.

But for Sweetgreen, it also marks a menu evolution that’s been a long time coming as the brand tries to shake off its reputation of being just a lunch-salad spot.

During a presentation at the JP Morgan Gaming, Lodging, Restaurant & Leisure Forum earlier this month in Las Vegas, CEO Jonathan Neman predicted the Chipotle Chicken bowl would be the first of many hits coming to the menu at Sweetgreen.

The chain got its start as a salad concept and many still think of it that way, even though the menu is now made up more of warm bowls than salads—albeit warm bowls typically served with a base of shredded kale or other greens. Now, Sweetgreen is pushing more toward capturing traffic for different dayparts and occasions, Neman said.

“We think that we have a lot of license to get into food that is more applicable during dinner,” said Neman.

Coming soon are new center-of-the-plate proteins that will bring “heartier, more craveable” dishes to the menu, he added. The company is testing salmon and a turkey meatball, for example, and there is a possibility of steak down the road.

The chain often introduces different proteins in different markets. In the Atlanta area, for example, there is the option of a Blackened Catfish Bowl, while in Minnesota menus might have a Miso Steelhead plate.

But Sweetgreen customers prefer chicken as their choice of protein by 70%, according to internal learnings, which in part inspired the creation of the Chipotle Chicken bowl.

Also new this week on the spring menu will be a Hummus Crunch Salad, including hummus from the Washington, D.C.-based Little Sesame, a one-unit restaurant that has branded products in grocery stores made with organic chickpeas.

Sweetgreen will also offer hummus and focaccia as a new side dish.

Also new as digital exclusives: A spring asparagus salad with roasted chicken, arugula, chopped romaine, cucumbers, cabbage, basil, za’atar breadcrumbs and green goddess ranch dressing; and an Asparagus and Roasted Salsa Bowl with wild rice, blackened chicken, broccoli, carrots, black lentils, fresh basil, sunflower seeds and a new roasted chipotle salsa dressing.

At units in New York City only, Sweetgreen will offer The Bowery Bowl, featuring pesticide-free spring mix, sourced locally from Bowery’s vertical farm.

And, perhaps going for the brunch crowd, the spring menu will also include a Spinach Florentine Bowl, with spinach, warm quinoa, tomatoes, red onion, mushrooms, egg, goat cheese za’atar breadcrumbs and pesto vinaigrette.

Also coming to all Sweetgreen units this week will be Olipop’s Lemon Lime and Vintage Cola beverages, as well as Hu’s Salty Dark Chocolate Bars, and Cashews + Vanilla Bean Hunks.

“Menu innovation is going to be a huge driver of growth in comp for us, not only for our existing customers, but opening up those dayparts,” Neman said at the JP Morgan conference. “We’ve been saying, meeting customers where they are. There are days that I want to eat a salad, and there are days that I want to eat real food that is unprocessed, but maybe don’t want lettuce and I want a bowl of rice and chicken or steak.”

If those words sound familiar, it’s because Chipotle has also long talked about “meeting customers where they are,” and has long positioned its menu around unprocessed “real” ingredients and in-house cooking.

It may be only fair that Sweetgreen is poking Chipotle, given that the fast-casual chain is testing a new concept called Farmesa, which likewise veers into Sweetgreen territory.

Farmesa’s initial menu, which is available for delivery and pickup out of a Kitchen United Mix location in Santa Monica, featuring warm bowls with more center-of-the-plate proteins, like Ora king salmon, tri-tip steak and grilled chicken, with a variety of vegetables and grains, such as red jasmine rice or herbed quinoa, or whipped potatoes.

And both chains may be positioning to prevent the loss of market share from the fast-casual Mediterranean concept Cava, which last month filed confidential documents for an initial public offering.

Sweetgreen’s spring menu will be available through June 12.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with more information from Sweetgreen.


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