Chipotle is planning to add new items to the menu, but first it wants customers to figure out what 'sofritas' and 'barbacoa' are

Chipotle QuesadillaHollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Chipotle is testing new menu items including nachos, milkshakes, and quesadillas, the last of which is a top-requested item from customers.
  • However, following the successful launch of Chipotle's Lifestyle Bowls, CEO Brian Niccol says the chain is looking for ways to launch more "new" menu items that utilize ingredients that are already available in-store.
  • "Our No. 1 selling meat is chicken," Niccol told Business Insider. "When you ask people, did you know we had carnitas, barbacoa, or sofritas, a lot of people are like - what is that?"

ORLANDO, Florida - Chipotle has new menu items in the works, from milkshakes to quesadillas.

But, the chain also wants to force customers to rediscover what is right in front of their eyes.

"Our No. 1 selling meat is chicken," Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told Business Insider in an interview at the ICR Conference on Tuesday. "When you ask people, did you know we had carnitas, barbacoa, or sofritas, a lot of people are like - what is that?"

As customers remain baffled by menu mainstays, Chipotle wants to cash in on "new" menu items that utilize ingredients that have long been available.

In January, the chain introduced its new line of Lifestyle Bowls. The Paleo Salad Bowl, the Keto Salad Bowl, the Whole30 Salad Bowl, and the Double Protein Bowl are available to order via app or website and only use components already on Chipotle's menu. In essence, Chipotle repackaged menu items that customers could already create - with great success.

Read more: Chipotle is adding new items to the menu, and it could be the key to finally convincing customers to come back to the chain

Niccol told Business Insider that he was "pleasantly surprised" by the reaction to the Lifestyle Bowls. With the successful launch of the new line, Chipotle is eyeing other ways to reintroduce customers to what the chain already serves.

"As we get ready to move into Lent or certain seasons where vegetarian or certain non-meat opportunities present themselves, nobody even knows we have sofritas," Niccol said, referring to the chain's tofu-based protein that launched in 2013. "Frankly, even if they know we do have sofritas, a lot of them don't even know that it is plant-based."

Cashing in on menu expansion

Chipotle NachosHollis Johnson/Business Insider

Niccol, who joined Chipotle in 2018, was known for utilizing buzzy new menu items to help turn around Taco Bell's business during his time at the fast-food chain. However, Chipotle faces different challenges when it comes to adding new menu items.

Chipotle's success relies on its speedy food-assembly line. Adding a menu item that would break the flow could be disastrous.

Meanwhile, adding "new" menu items that utilize ingredients already on the menu is a low-cost, high-reward proposition for Chipotle. The only thing the chain needs to do is add the option to its website and mobile-ordering platform.

"We believe the introduction of these bowls has low-risk but high-return potential as they cater to consumers' [preference] for lifestyle/diet-oriented meals while utilizing existing ingredients already in the restaurant," BTIG analyst Peter Saleh wrote in a note about Chipotle's Lifestyle Bowls earlier in January.

Saleh continued: "Additionally, the online only strategy limits throughput risk as digital orders are typically placed well in advance of pick up."

Chipotle is also working to add items to the menu that actually contain new ingredients. The top-requested item from customers is a quesadilla, which is currently being served at the chain's test kitchen in New York City, alongside items such as a tostada and a chocolate milkshake.

Read more: Chipotle is testing a milkshake and a take on avocado toast as the struggling chain enters a new era

Niccol said in a presentation at the ICR Conference on Tuesday that the chain wants to run extensive tests in a small number of locations before rolling items out nationally - a stark contrast to its queso rollout, which was tested for just a few months in New York City before hitting menus nationwide to mixed reviews.

Rolling out a new salad with a non-romaine base or a new dressing is much easier than adding something like a quesadilla to the menu, and it will likely happen at an earlier date. Niccol said that the chain also plans to explore new beverage and dessert options eventually.

For now, however, these items are still in testing.

And, the next big thing to hit Chipotle's menus might already be there - customers just didn't know about it.

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