Chipotle is still a good investment post E. coli outbreak

Chipotle is still a good investment post E. coli outbreak

In November of 2015, an E. coli outbreak struck a major blow to Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG). Over 40 restaurants were closed, many people were infected and Chipotle’s reputation was, at least temporarily, tarnished.

Following the outbreak, Chipotle’s sales dropped precipitously, profit became marginal and its stock price dropped from highs around $750 to lows under $400. Currently CMG stock trades around $420-440 a share.

Now that the E.coli outbreak has ended, buying shares of Chipotle poses a significant buying opportunity. Even though some stores’ sales declined dramatically following the E. coli outbreak, sales are slowly starting to return to pre-outbreak levels — although, they are not yet there. If sales are able to recover to pre-outbreak levels, shares could easily return to the $600-700 level over the next 12 months.

After the outbreak, some of Chipotle’s most loyal customers began finding fast- casual alternatives, such as Moe’s Southwest Grill, and many of these customers have yet to return to Chipotle.

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As a result, Chipotle initiated the “Chiptopia” summer rewards program. Through the program, Chipotle planned to rebuild customer loyalty, bring back old customers, increase repeat sales and show customers that the food is safe to eat, all while rebuilding its brand to its most loyal customers.

Now that the program has concluded, it will be interesting to see what findings about its customers’ Chipotle discovers and announces when it reveals its next quarter’s results.

To further improve sales, Chipotle has also been working to expand its business operations. Tasty Burger, Chipotle’s custom burger shop spin-off, was recently opened in Ohio. Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis claimed that Tasty Made “can appeal to peoples’ timeless love of burgers but in a way that is consistent with [Chipotle’s] long-term vision.”

Over the next year, the success of Tasty Burger could lead to Chipotle’s reinvigorated success if they are able to completely enter new markets as well, thus competing with other fast-casual chains such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Additionally, activist and contrarian investor, Bill Ackman sees serious potential in Chipotle. Last month, he disclosed that his hedge fund, Pershing Capital took a 9.9 percent ownership stake in the company and that he is looking to make some changes. Ackman is known for investing in companies such as Wendy’s, Herbalife and Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Following the announcement, Chipotle shares surged, and investors will be watching Ackman over the next few months to see what tricks he may have up his sleeve to revitalize the stagnating company.

From personal experience, every time I walk into a Chipotle it is always packed, and I do not understand how share prices have yet to recover to at least the $500-600 range.

This sample may be biased due to the specific Chipotles I frequent, but the length of the lines before and after the outbreak are not noticeable.

Assessing those who frequented the restaurant before the outbreak, most have returned to eating at Chipotle. I predict that Chipotle, barring any unexpected E. coli outbreak or health scares, will be able to regain its level of pre-outbreak sales and once again rule the fast-casual market.

Given the current growth of the fast-casual market, Chipotle’s ability to regain customer loyalty through the “Chiptopia” program, the potential success of Tasty Burger and Bill Ackman’s leadership, Chipotle has many opportunities ahead. Therefore, now may be a great time to buy shares of Chipotle.

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