There's a special delivery in the markets that has been fiercely awaited.
It looks as if a comeback is finally going to happen at Chipotle Mexican Grill(CMG) - Get Report . Though down Thursday, the Tex-Mex chain's stock has been see-sawing higher; year to date, burrito bulls are seeing gains of more than 20%. That's soundly beating the 2017 gains of some other restaurant stocks in the fast-casual corner, including Potbelly(PBPB) - Get Report(up roughly 7%) and Shake Shack (SHAK) - Get Report (down roughly 6.5%). That's not to mention fast-food favorites like McDonald's(MCD) - Get Report (up nearly 8%) or Yum Brands(YUM) - Get Report , owner of rice-and-beans rival Taco Bell (up only 2%).
Chipotle is still lagging behind Panera Bread (PNRA) , which so far in 2017 has recorded gains of a breathtaking 52%-plus. But then again, much of the bakery café's stock climb (about 20%) has come this week, courtesy of acquisition rumors.
So what's Chipotle doing right, all of a sudden?
It would appear that the company has finally found the right marketing tactic -- promoting the "clean" nature of its food.
Last week, Chipotle rolled out a new marketing campaign and touted a new tortilla recipe that is 100% preservative free. According to the company, the only preserving agents it employs are naturally occurring in the juices of limes and lemons that are already part of the recipe. An online game (with free chips and guacamole as the prize) challenges players to examine ingredients found in Chipotle's recipes and pick out artificial invaders.
And Chipotle's CEO, Steve Ells, publicly praised his company for its additive-free menu, making thinly veiled digs at competitors such as Panera Bread and McDonald's for still using additives, even if they're natural.
"Clean" eating is one of the hottest trends right now. The current health-food craze has certainly changed the landscape for food and beverages, from leading to slumping sales for soda companies like Coca-Cola(KO) - Get Report and PepsiCo(PEP) - Get Report to increasing sales of organic food for Walmart(WMT) - Get Report .
As Chipotle focuses on its new marketing strategies, it's going to dial back on the promotion front. Throughout 2016, the company bombarded cellphone text inboxes and social media sites with the lure of freebies. And Chipotle even hosted a limited-time loyalty program that promised free entrees. But those offers weren't quite enough to win back its once rabidly loyal fan base. While diners came in to claim their free chips and guac, the next time they ate out they headed for Panera or another rival.
Back in March, data analysts at M Science forecast a Wall Street-beating first quarter for Chipotle, with same-store sales finally on a roll. The company is slated to release earnings results on April 25. Burrito-loving investors might want to consider getting in on Chipotle's stock now, before the earnings report potentially sends its stock up to spicy prices not seen for a while.
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The author is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.