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Yum! Brands Wants to Give Its Shares Muscle With New Protein Menu

NEW YORK (TheStreet) – Yum! Brands (YUM - Get Report) knows the definition of good eating.

The company whose restaurants include KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, among others, has fed Americans for many decades. But it's been the stock that has done most of the feeding lately, satisfying investors' appetites for profits.

Over the past eight months, shares are up almost 30%. With the stock closing Monday at $83.29, Yum! has provided year-to-date gains of over 10% compared to the industry's 3.27% gain.

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With the company's new restaurant initiatives that focuses on healthy doses of protein, investors may need to make room for their future cash as they fill their bellies. There are no signs that Yum! plans to slow down, which is not good news for Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG).

Never shy about menu tinkering, Yum! said it will introduce a Cantina Power Menu beginning Thursday at its Taco Bell restaurants. It's only been a couple of months since Taco Bell began serving breakfast. After its trial run of the menu last year, offering chicken and steak burrito bowls proved to be successful. Bringing it nationwide was a logical next step.

The way I see it, this new protein menu is really being introduced for two reasons. First and most obvious, Yum! wants to capitalize on the popularity of all-things protein. The second reason and perhaps most tactical, it's a not-so subtle attack on Chipotle's strong grip on protein.

Chipotle, which has been credited with perfecting this restaurant concept, has demonstrated that this model can work. Offering a wide range on menu items using only a small list of ingredients has delivered strong operational results. Panera Bread (PNRA) has attempted a similar model only to yield mixed results.

For Yum!, which has a strong global reach and more pricing power than Chipotle, it's not a matter of "if" its protein menu will work. The company already has a strong grasp on what its customers want. The question is, how much profit should investors expect and to what extent it can damage Chipotle?

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