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Would Chipotle do breakfast? ‘Maybe’

The company won’t add the morning meal “anytime soon,” says CEO Brian Niccol. But it is looking at new dayparts.
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Well, he didn’t say no.

Brian Niccol, the CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, was asked at an investors conference Wednesday whether the company is considering breakfast. And while his answer might not be terribly pleasing to customers eager for customizable morning burritos, he didn’t exactly rule it out, either.

“I’d love Chipotle breakfast,” Niccol said at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, according to a transcript of the presentation on financial services site Sentieo. “We’re just not going to do it anytime soon.”

In other words, Niccol likes the idea—the company just isn’t focused on it.

“Do I think breakfast is something in the future we might do? Maybe,” he said. “It’s just not something we are focused on doing right now.”

One daypart the company is focused on at the moment is the afternoons. Niccol noted that, as the company increased mobile ordering, it increased sales during the dinner daypart. It has long had a strong lunch business.

Now the company wants to build its business between those dayparts. “I think there are some menu things we can do like salads and so forth, to just offer the right food at that 3 or 4 time period,” Niccol said. “So that’s probably the next daypart we’re really after.”

One product Chipotle believes could work during that daypart is beverages. Niccol said Wednesday that the company is looking to improve its beverage offerings, “taking our beverages closer” to the company’s Food With Integrity strategy.

“Part of the reason why we want to get after beverages is I think there’s a real opportunity for that afternoon daypart,” Niccol said, noting that if the company “enhanced our beverage program, we would probably see an uptick” in the afternoons.  

A Chipotle spokeswoman said Wednesday that no details of the company’s beverage options were available as of yet.

Chipotle has periodically tested craft cocktails and even tequila-based drinks. But much of its innovation has focused on ingredients, including bacon, which the company began testing last year, as well as queso, chorizo and sofritas.

And more recently, the chain has marketed preconfigured items, using ingredients long available but simply given the name Lifestyle Bowls, that fit various diets, such as vegetarian.

Niccol said there are more opportunities for preconfigured products. “Not many people realize that we have carnitas, barbacoa, sofritas,” he said. “A lot of people know we have chicken, a lot of people know we have steak. And so we still have an opportunity to create combinations for people that taste terrific and put in a simple way for them to experience it.”

Chipotle is testing a new protein, carne asada, in Fresno, Calif., and Cincinnati. The item is going through the company’s stage-gate process before it considers a national launch, said Laurie Schalow, the company’s chief corporate reputation officer, in an email to Restaurant Business.

That’s a simple innovation, Niccol said, because Chipotle can simply put the asada in the hot section, with customers having the option to put that in their burritos or bowls.

Niccol did hint at testing new equipment and processes. Schalow said that the new equipment will help the chain make quesadillas and is being tested in Indianapolis and Cleveland. She also said the equipment could potentially be used for nachos, which the company tested last year.

Regardless of any kind of product innovation, Niccol said, the company wants to make sure the new products don’t detract from the chain’s ability to make its burritos and bowls quickly.

“The big hurdle for us is making sure anything we introduce that goes beyond the current process doesn’t negatively impact our ability to execute our great burritos or great bowls at the speed we want to make,” Niccol said.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include more details on the tests, and comment from Chipotle. 

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