×

Chipotle turnaround far off as survey shows consumers still don't trust the food, analyst says

  • Cowen lowers its rating for Chipotle shares to underperform from market perform, citing a consumer survey pointing to a slower than expected sales rebound.
  • The firm lowers its price target for restaurant chain's shares to $250 from $370, representing 21 percent downside from Thursday's close.
  • The August 2017 survey of 2,500 consumers revealed the "food quality and trustworthiness" perception for Chipotle was back near its lowest levels since the 2015 food safety crisis.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A turnaround for Chipotle is nowhere in sight, according to one Wall Street firm.

Cowen lowered its rating for the burrito restaurant chain to underperform from market perform, citing the firm's negative consumer survey results for Chipotle's brand.

"Proprietary survey data indicates Chipotle's quality and value perceptions remain near trough levels, leading us to believe the sales recovery will continue to trail investor expectations," analyst Andrew Charles wrote in a note to clients Friday. "We are concerned upcoming efforts to drive sales are not enough to improve these measures and in turn will not drive upside to investor same store sales expectations."

Charles lowered his price target for Chipotle shares to $250 from $370, representing 21 percent downside from Thursday's close.

The company's stock has underperformed the market this year. It is down 16 percent year to date through Thursday compared with the S&P 500's 10 percent gain.

Chipotle's problems with E. coli food safety issues in 2015 resulted in a steep drop in revenue and its stock price. In addition, the chain also faced a norovirus incident at one of its restaurants in July earlier this year.

Charles cited how his August 2017 survey of 2,500 consumers revealed the "food quality and trustworthiness" perception for Chipotle was back near its lowest levels since the 2015 food safety crisis.

As result, the analyst lowered his second half 2017 same-store comparable sales growth estimate to 0.75 percent from 3 percent.

"Looking ahead to 2018, we believe management's plans to take 5% pricing over the next 2-4 quarters will weigh on traffic in a fragile industry backdrop," he wrote. "We fear Chipotle is looking to drive comps through pricing given the difficulty of regaining traffic over the last 18 months."

Chipotle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this story.