Customers Seem to Be Ditching Chipotle and Its High Prices
Chipotle has long boasted an extremely loyal base of fans who can't get enough of its fresh ingredients and Mexican-inspired fare. And thanks, in part, to these devotees, the chain felt comfortable making frequent and noticeable price increases—many of which took place in the past year alone. But its most recent earnings report seems to demonstrate that customers are finally fed up and turning their back on the overpriced bowls, burritos, and tacos.
In a Feb. 6 earnings call, Chipotle reported fourth quarter earnings, revenue, and same-store sales that fell short of expectations. The chain said customer spending was lower than usual, leading to a "tough" quarter. "As we got around the holidays, we just didn't see that pop, that momentum, that we normally see … frankly, we started the quarter soft, and we ended the quarter soft," said CFO Jack Hartung.
Executives attributed the weak results to factors like the weather, comparisons against the popular smoked brisket that rolled out in 2021, and a lower-than-expected performance from the garlic guajillo steak launched in September 2022. The limited-time menu item has received some scorching reviews from customers.
CEO Brian Niccol maintained that Chipotle has not seen an adverse reaction to its upped prices, even though transactions have declined for two straight quarters, CNBC reported. But customers seem to be fed up with the higher costs nonetheless.
Though Chipotle has garnered major popularity and success for its relatively small menu, the fast-casual has not been able to escape the effects of soaring U.S. inflation, which slowed for the sixth consecutive month in December 2022 but still saw a year-over-year increase of 6.5%. Facing increased costs for ingredients such as avocados, dairy, and meat, the chain raised its prices by 4% in August 2022. This came after another 4% increase at the start of 2022, as well as earlier price hikes in 2021.
Chipotle's price increases reportedly helped the company deal with the higher ingredient costs last year. It noted that its food costs "benefited from menu price increases and, to a lesser extent, lower avocado prices."
In an interview with Yahoo! Finance this week, Hartung made a further case for higher prices, saying that the chain has been monitoring the reaction to the price hikes and "most" customers have been coming into stores the same amount of times or even more.
But this is not the case for Chipotle customers who have less to spend. Hartung admitted the company is "seeing some softness in our lower income customers, but we're also seeing that they're spending less in restaurants generally, so it's not just Chipotle."
He said that the chain is not currently planning to ease its elevated costs, but additional hikes aren't on the horizon either.