Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (CMG) investors are having a very good day.
The stock is up 24% Thursday, April 26, following a redemptive first-quarter earnings release under brand-new CEO Brian Niccol. As of 3pm, the stock was trading at $422.70.
The long-beleaguered fast casual chain killed it on all fronts on Wednesday, beating Wall Street projections for earnings, revenue and comparable restaurant sales. The restaurant will open at least 130 new locations this year. In the earnings call, Niccol underscored his intention to rejuvenate the brand after two years of stagnant growth.
"I believe the brand has been invisible and I think as the brand becomes visible and we lead culture, that's going to be a huge opportunity," he said. "This brand needs to be leading culture, not reacting to it, and the people that are loyal to this brand, that's what they want to be a part of."
Niccol's plan of action is to home in on delivery and catering through digital ordering, menu innovations and improving restaurant design. Digital sales, he said, posted 20% year-over-year growth and accounted for 8.8% of sales in the first quarter. He also told analysts that while a new food platform like breakfast or a late-night menu is not yet in the works, the company has begun considering adding a drive-through function to about 100 locations.
"In the coming months you will see us piloting various tests across key innovation focus areas such as consumer access, the digital experience, our menu and restaurant experience, and realigning the organization to support the go-forward strategy," he said.
In its first-quarter results, Chipotle posted earnings of $2.13 per share, versus the expected $1.57, according to Factset. It reported net revenue of of $1.15 billion, about $2 million above what analysts predicted. And finally, it saw a 2.2% uptick in comparable restaurant sales, higher than the anticipated 1.3%.
These figures should be a relief for Niccol, who joined the company from Yum! Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell in February. While he was largely welcomed by investors and received industry affirmation, some critics were skeptical of his franchising background, operational savvy and the disparity in ethos between Chipotle and Taco Bell.
"We have received many questions around the types of potential operational changes that Brian could make a CMG," J.P. Morgan analyst John Ivankoe wrote in a Monday note, pointing to the sea of changes that he could usher in, including those pertaining to value, menu offerings and a drive-through.
The results Tuesday, nonetheless, proved that no matter what happens under Niccol, Chipotle's balance sheet won't be neglected.
"We are in the process of forming a path to greater performance in sales, transactions, margins and new restaurants," he said in a statement. "This path to performance will be grounded in a strategy of executing the fundamentals while introducing consumer-meaningful innovation across the business. It will also require a structure and organization built for creativity, action and accountability."
In its first-quarter results, Chipotle's $1.15 billion in revenue reflects a 7.4% growth from the same period in 2017. The growth was driven by the addition of 35 new restaurants in the quarter, and the rise in comparable restaurant sales can be attributable to higher menu prices, the company said.