Brian Niccol, Chipotle CEO.

There’s a chance that Brian Niccol loves Tacos. The Chipotle CEO joined the company in early 2018 after serving three years as the head executive at Taco Bell. In his short time at the helm, Niccol has taken Chipotle from E.Coli scandals to an innovator in the restaurant space; reinventing the treatment of their employees in order to retain top talent.

Niccol had been associated with Yum! Brands for the better part of 15 years when he came to Chipotle. He took over for founder Steve Ells amid multiple cases of E. Coli outbreaks after the company decided it was time for a change. Niccol’s turnaround strategy was simple; remind people why they love Chipotle in the first place and then provide innovative convenience in a space centered on balancing speed with quality.

Nobody can deny that Chipotle has achieved this in spades. Since Niccol’s leadership, there have been a number of innovations including quick pick shelves and lifestyle-based bowls including Keto and Paleo. The quick pick shelves (for online and call in orders) are available in every Chipotle location and allows consumers, as well as third-party delivery drivers, to quickly pick up orders without the hassle of waiting in line. By offering lifestyle bowls, Chipotle is illustrating that they are both listening and catering to the desires of their customers. The company knew it was in a position to gain back customer loyalty, so that’s what they set out to do.

One of the best ways to build back loyalty is to reward loyalty. Chipotle revamped their loyalty program into a points based system that rewards customers and earns free food with every purchase. They also embarked upon their “For Real” marketing campaign. Here, the company highlighted the fact that the ingredients they use are all recognizable and easy to pronounce. This illustrates a shift in foodservice in general. Chipotle has always prided itself on the quality of its ingredients but in the age where they’re trying to win back loyalty, illustrating what makes the company different may be key to their success.

For a time, it seemed that Chipotle was a stock market darling. It’s somewhat rare for a restaurant company to be selling at $700 a share but that’s what they did. At least, that’s what they did before the fall. If you examine the chart below plotting Chipotle’s stock over the years, one doesn’t need a degree in economics to assess when the E. Coli breakouts occurred and the struggles the company had to get back to its former glory. What is important to note though, is the price when Niccol joined the company versus the price now. Around the time of Niccol’s hiring in early 2018 Chipotle was trading at around $300 a share. A year and a half later, Chipotle is trading at around $750 a share under Niccol’s watchful eye.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Stock Prices (CMG)

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Source: Yahoo Finance

In the past few months, Chipotle has set the new standard in the treatment of restaurant employees. They have revamped their tuition reimbursement program where the company will pay (upfront) the costs for 75 different business and technology degrees. This program is open to any employee who has worked at the company for at least 120 days. Additionally, the company announced that it will provide access to mental healthcare services for more than 80,000 employees in 2020 and recently implemented a new bonus structure for employees as well. All of these efforts illustrate the lengths that the company is going through in order to retain the best talent and push the company forward.

Convenience and its meaning is an ever-changing concept in the restaurant industry. Where it once meant providing a state of the art dining experience it may now mean speed of delivery. Brian Niccol came into Chipotle with: a vision for the future, a plan to see it through and fervor for Mexican food. Now that Chipotle has returned to its former glory, what’s next for the company? With Brian Niccol’s leadership, the future seems bright and the salsa seems fresh.

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