Chipotle is testing a trendy new menu item -- and it shows that the struggling chain has entered a new era

Hollis JohnsonChipotle’s New York City test kitchen.
  • Chipotle added quinoa to the menu at its New York City test kitchen.
  • The trendy grain is just one of many new menu items Chipotle has tested in the past year, including queso, which it later added to menus at locations across the US.
  • The chain is entering a new era as Taco Bell’s CEO takes over as the top executive, a position long held by Chipotle’s founder.

Chipotle on Monday added a trendy new item to the menu at its test kitchen in New York City: quinoa.

“The quinoa is made with red and gold quinoa tossed with a little citrus juice, cumin, and freshly chopped cilantro,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle representative, said in an email to Business Insider. “We are recommending that added to a salad or in place of rice in another entree.”

Quinoa ChipotleChipotleA Chipotle bowl made with quinoa.

Chipotle has long avoided adding items to its menu, as its style of assembly-line food preparation has been crucial to its success.

However, Chipotle’s resistance to change has recently shown signs of crumbling.

In July, Chipotle debuted a New York City test kitchen open to the public, kicking off the launch by serving queso, which the chain rolled out across the US in September.

While critics have slammed Chipotle’s queso, the company said in February that the new menu item had led to a 2% increase in the average customer’s check.

Chipotle recently hinted that more new menu items might be in the works. Its founder, Steve Ells, said in a call with investors that the company was considering “salads with different kinds of grains,” as well as “traditional things” like nachos and quesadillas.

The chain’s incoming CEO, Brian Niccol, will be a crucial player in any additions to Chipotle’s menu. Earlier this month, the company announced that Niccol, formerly Taco Bell’s CEO, would take over as Chipotle’s top executive in early March.

While Chipotle, which has struggled financially in recent years amid a series of illness outbreaks tied to the chain, has attempted to keep its menu simple, Taco Bell has found success in consistently offering limited-time items, such as nacho fries and the Naked Chicken Chalupa.

Not every item in Chipotle’s test kitchen rolls out to locations across the country. For example, it has been serving nachos in the test kitchen for months but hasn’t indicated any plans to offer the dish elsewhere.

But the recent addition shows that Chipotle is not finished experimenting with new dishes. And with a trendy, health-conscious choice like quinoa, the chain is demonstrating that adding items doesn’t mean it needs to ditch its obsession with quality, natural ingredients to adjust its menu strategy.

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