Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing new restaurants in the U.K. and France, and the chain’s CEO said Thursday he is “bullish” on global expansion.
Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol’s comments come just a couple of weeks after the Newport Beach, Calif-based fast casual announced it intends to open eight new units in Canada this year.
The burrito chain opened a new U.K. location a week ago and is currently experimenting with European growth, Niccol said at the Piper Sandler Consumer Marketplace Conference.
“We’re going to see how we perform in the U.K. and France,” he said, according to a transcript from financial services site Sentieo. “We’re off to a good start, given the constraints we’re operating in in the U.K. And you’re going to see us opening some restaurants in France. But it’s still in our stage-gate process where we want to make sure we’re executing the right asset and in the right locations to get started with.”
Niccol added, though, that he expects such expansion “to be part of our growth story in the not-too-distant future.”
Chipotle’s build-out of its digital ecosystem in the U.S., including its app, order-ahead Chipotlane pickup option and robust rewards network will help it as it looks to grow in other countries, he said.
“We, as a company, have more levers than ever before to be successful in new markets, between our digital system, the varying asset designs that we can bring to a market and then, I think, just the strength of the brand around Food with Integrity and the proposition that comes with that,” Niccol said. “So, I’m bullish on it but it’s still early days.”
Chipotle is not alone in its global push. Restaurant chains that fared well during the pandemic are now looking to expand into international markets.
Wendy’s this week opened its first U.K. restaurant in more than two decades. The burger chain said it believes it could open 400 units in the country and that it is slated to open four stores there this year.
Late last month, Wingstop became a minority investor in its U.K. franchisee, Lemon Pepper Holdings, with the goal of speeding its expansion. Wingstop also recently announced a new development agreement in Canada and has said it is looking to grow in China and Europe. The fast-casual wing chain said this spring it is embarking on a multi-year initiative to create a global technology platform to ease international expansion.
Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.