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Chipotle Is Beating Panera Bread In One Key Way

New data shows one key success metric is skyrocketing for Chipotle and lagging for Panera.

Chipotle and Panera Bread are two of the largest and most popular chains in the growing fast-casual sector, a category of restaurants that straddles the line between fast-food and sit-down dining. However, new data shows that Chipotle is beating its bakery-café chain rival when it comes to one key measure: sales.

About a decade ago, Panera was the bigger player in the fast-casual sphere. In 2019, it became the first fast-casual brand to earn a spot in the top 10 of industry research firm Technomic's annual Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, per Restaurant Business Magazine. But in the years since then, Chipotle sales have skyrocketed while Panera's have remained somewhat stagnant.

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Chipotle has seen a whopping 79% jump in sales since 2019, while Panera's sales have increased a comparatively low 6.8% in the same time period, the magazine reported. The burrito slinger has been among the top 10 largest restaurant chains in the Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report for several consecutive years now, including rising above Domino's to score ninth place in 2023.

Panera Bread exterior
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

That puts Chipotle among the ranks of major restaurant industry players like McDonald's, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A. Meanwhile, Panera hasn't been able to break into the top 10 in recent years.

So why are Chipotle's sales soaring while Panera struggles to keep up? Per Restaurant Business Magazine, there are several factors that may have been at play.

For one, the COVID-19 pandemic hit bakery-café chains like Panera hard as consumers cut back on breakfast and catering orders. Additionally, while Panera hasn't been afraid to adopt technological advancements like ordering kiosks and app ordering, Chipotle has aggressively pushed mobile sales for takeout customers since 2020. The digital segment now accounts for 37% of Chipotle's business.

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It's also notable that Chipotle's menu has remained relatively short and simple, while Panera has strayed away from its core offerings of soups, salads, and sandwiches in recent years by adding options like flatbread pizzas and grain bowls. (That is, until Panera recently rolled out a huge menu transformation that eliminated dozens of items and refocused its food selection on soups, salads, and sandwiches.)

One final factor that could help explain the difference in the trajectories between the two chains is growth. Chipotle opened about 150 new restaurants in 2020 while Panera pulled back on expansion, according to the magazine. In a new report this month, the foot traffic platform attributed Chipotle's continued store growth, in part, to a "strong" increase in customer visits over the past year.

"With the fast-casual segment expected to continue growing in the coming year—and with Chipotle's record of staying ahead of the curve—the fast casual leader is well-positioned to continue driving visits to its restaurants," according to

Zoe Strozewski
Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe