- Chipotle Mexican Grill is releasing its queso nationwide starting Sept. 12.
- The burrito chain has long avoided serving queso at its chains because of its "food with integrity" pledge, which promises that its menu items will not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
- Chipotle said that it took customer feedback into consideration and tweaked its recipe slightly before deciding to roll the product out nationally.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is officially launching its queso nationwide.
The burrito chain, which recently began testing the product in about 350 stores in Colorado and California, is rolling out the yellow cheese dip to all of its U.S. stores Sept. 12. Customers can add queso to their entree for about $1.25 or can order a large side of queso for $5.25.
"Although queso was the number one requested menu item, we never added it to our menu before now because we wouldn't use the industrial additives used in most quesos," Steve Ells, Chipotle's CEO said in a statement Tuesday.
"Additives make typical queso very consistent and predictable, but are not at all in keeping with our food culture. Our queso may vary slightly depending on the characteristics of the aged cheddar cheese used in each batch, but using only real ingredients is what makes our food so delicious."
By going a more natural route, Chipotle is accepting that there will be some variability in the queso. The company said it took customer feedback during its test into consideration and tweaked its recipe slightly before deciding to roll the product out nationally.
During the queso test in California and Colorado, Chipotle received tepid reviews for the product, which many said had a "grainy" texture. However, others applauded its smokey taste.
Chipotle has long cited its "food with integrity" pledge, which promises that its menu items will not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, to explain why it didn't offer the item before now. In a since-deleted video, Chipotle said queso is typically "made with artificial stabilizers to keep its shiny liquid form," explaining why it hadn't offered it before.
The competition in the category is intense. California-based Del Taco recently launched its own queso — also free of artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. However, Del Taco's queso blanco is smooth and creamy, like traditional queso, and has been getting rave reviews on Twitter since its launch last week.
"Del Taco's new queso blanco poses a very direct threat to Chipotle, albeit in the areas where the two chains overlap," Conlumino retail analytics CEO Neil Saunders told CNBC. "For Chipotle, this adds even more pressure at a time when it is already struggling to persuade consumers of the virtues of its offer and the quality of its food."
Against a backdrop of sector-wide weakness, Chipotle shares were recently trading down more than 3 percent, while Del Taco shares shed 2 percent.