BERNSTEIN: Here are the easiest places for Chipotle to begin its turnaround

  • Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol will take over the reins at Chipotle in March.
  • So far, Wall Street is optimistic about the fresh leadership.
  • Bernstein on Friday laid out what it believes are the easiest places for the company to begin its turnaround, beginning with marketing and innovation.

Wall Street continues to fawn over Chipotle‘s potential revival under new CEO Brian Niccol.

The 43-year old, who comes from the helm of Yum! Brands‘ Taco Bell, brings a wealth of experience in the fast-food sector, though some fans are worried that what worked for Taco Bell could tarnish Chipotle’s value.

Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore has one of the highest price targets for the company. At $US500, her price target is a full 65% above Wall Street’s consensus of $US303 for the stock, according to Bloomberg.

In a note to clients Friday, she laid out Chipotle’s “low hanging fruit” for beginning a turnaround and returning its stock to its previous highs above $US700 from two years ago.

“The first order of business, in our view, is marketing, where CMG’s efforts have been underwhelming and where Niccol has significant expertise,” she said. “Taco Bell is known for its innovative (and effective) marketing campaigns, judicious use of digital media (both earned and owned), while sister brand Pizza Hut successfully launched a loyalty program (vs. Chiptopia).”

Innovation is another place Chipotle could easily step up its game, Senatore says. The company was a pioneer of the fast-casual industry, and one of the first to offer an assembly-line style of burrito creation, but more recently has struggled with new ideas. Queso, specifically, was a bust.

“While Queso was not quite the unmitigated disaster that Chipotle bears made it out to be, it was clear that the testing process could have been improved,” she said. “Chipotle’s decision to launch queso nationally, and then iterate as customer feedback came in may not have affected attach rates ultimately, but it certainly didn’t bring the positive attention to the brand that such a momentous launch should have.”

Still, the chain claims queso added 2% to every customer check on average.

Chipotle has already begun testing quinoa bowls at its New York City test location, which could prove more successful than queso. Business Insider’s retail reporter Kate Taylor reports the new addition shows the struggling chain has already ‘entered a new era.’

Shares of Chipotle are down 2.2% to $US313.91 a share in early trading Friday, and down 53% in the past 12 months.

Brian Niccol officially takes over as CEO from Steve Ells on March 5. So far, Chipotle has added nearly $US2 billion in market value since his takeover was announced.

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