If noted activist investor -- and Chipotle (CMG) - Get Report shareholder -- Bill Ackman wanted to shake up the stumbling well-paid management at the burrito giant, he has managed to achieve just that.
The bruised and battered burrito king uncorked a dizzying array of new initiatives on a call with analysts Tuesday evening targeted at igniting growth, ranging from possibly doing national TV ads in spring 2017 to hiring a person in Europe to explore faster international development to installing tablet ordering systems in its restaurants. But as is often said on TV, Wait there's more!
Chipotle execs showed a rare desire to introduce new food to its menu (such as two unnamed deserts that are now being tested somewhere) and a commitment to aggressively establish mobile ordering, which is something the company has been woefully behind in compared to other major fast food chains such as Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report and Panera Bread (PNRA) . The company even promised a return to brighter days, projecting a high-single digit percentage same-store sales increase and earnings of $10.00 a share for 2017.
Analysts currently estimate Chipotle will earnings $3.55 a share this year, and $9.90 a share in 2017. So $10 a share is a pretty big stretch.
Perhaps the ultimate sign that Ackman has gotten into the heads of Chipotle execs? Chipotle is likely about to shutter an unproven restaurant concept in order to save money and reinvest those savings elsewhere.
Chipotle booked a charge of 29 cents a share during the third quarter to write down the value of its 15-store Asian fare concept ShopHouse, which opened its first location in 2011. The concept offers an upscale take on Asian-themed food that includes rice bowls and sandwiches.
"After operating in three diverse markets, we have determined ShopHouse hasn't demonstrated an attractive unit economic model," Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells told analysts. Chipotle is "exploring strategic alternatives" for ShopHouse said Ells, declining to commit to shuttering the concept entirely. Ells added that Chipotle will shift its focus on driving menu innovation at its namesake division, while also focusing on its seven store pizza concept called Pizzeria Locale and soon, hamburgers.
Tasty Made, Chipotle's new burger concept, is still scheduled to open this fall in Columbus, Ohio. It will exclusively focus on burgers, fresh-cut French fries and milkshakes. Similar to Chipotle, the chain will stress meat and other food free of artificial ingredients.
While Ackman probably appreciates the peace offerings by Chipotle execs, he can't possibly be happy with his exposure to the company thus far.
Chipotle still looks like a disaster.
Ackman's Pershing Square disclosed a 9.9% stake in Chipotle on Sept. 6 after the close of trading, immediately sending the shares 7% higher. In a filing, Pershing said it intended to engage in discussions with Chipotle's board and management. It added that it believes Chipotle shares are undervalued and attractive. Since the filing, Chipotle shares have shed about 2%.
A spokesman for Pershing Square declined to comment on whether Ackman has met with Chipotle's execs. Said a Chipotle spokesman via email, "We speak to, and meet with investors often, but we don't discuss the nature of those meetings or conversations." Right.
Meanwhile, Chipotle shares stand to lose more ground on Wednesday following another dreadful quarter.
Despite free food giveaways, a new loyalty program and stepped-up marketing, Chipotle reported that third-quarter sales plunged 21.9%, falling well shy of Wall Street forecasts for a drop of 18.9%. Excluding one-time items, earnings came in at 56 cents a share, badly missing analyst expectations for earnings of $1.56 a share.
Better get those two new desserts to market quickly, Chipotle -- Bill is watching.