Updated with comments from Chipotle.
Outspoken activist investor Bill Ackman may be about to take a bigger bite out of beaten-up Chipotle ( CMG) .
Chipotle and Ackman are nearing a settlement that would give the activist a voice in the boardroom, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal today. A spokesman for Ackman's Pershing Square declined to comment on the report.
Said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold: "We often meet with or speak with our investors, but we do not comment on the nature of those conversations. I'll also note that we are already on record indicating that we are interviewing potential board candidates as we work to refresh our board."
So far, the relationship between Ackman -- an admitted fan of Chipotle's food -- and the beleaguered burrito giant has been cordial. 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 3% following a challenging third quarter for the company as it continued to struggle to regain consumers after food safety issues in 2015.
Chipotle has certainly extended an olive branch to Ackman.
The company uncorked a dizzying array of new initiatives on a conference call in October 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 executivess showed a rare desire to introduce new food to its menu (such as two unnamed desserts that are now being tested somewhere) and a commitment to aggressively establish mobile ordering, an area in which the company has fallen woefully behind other major fast food chains such as Starbucks ( SBUX) 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 a share for 2017. As icing on the cake: The company said it would look to exit its unsuccessful Asian fare concept Shophouse.