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A Coup for Chipotle

R.J. Hottovy, CFA

We're hard-pressed to find a better fit for Chipotle's CEO position than Brian Niccol, the former CEO of Yum Brands' Taco Bell division who will join the company on March 5. Under Niccol's leadership, Taco Bell has been one of the bright spots in U.S. quick-service restaurants. We believe his appointment confirms our thoughts about Chipotle being open to more aggressive measures to drive sales and improve operations, and expect Niccol's influence to lead to new approaches to menu innovation, marketing, mobile technologies, and restaurant experience while elevating the Chipotle brand-intangible asset.

In fact, we believe many components of Taco Bell's U.S. strategies can be dropped into the Chipotle turnaround playbook. These include adding new products; increasing mobile ordering and one-to-one marketing efforts; expanding ways to reach consumers outside restaurants, including delivery; and upgraded restaurant aesthetics.

There is no change to our fair value estimate, narrow-moat rating, or standard stewardship rating until we have greater visibility regarding Niccol's strategic priorities. We do acknowledge upside to our longer term comparable sales outlook of 3% is possible if he can translate aspects of Taco Bell's recent operational success to Chipotle.