Chipotle brings back chorizo for a limited time in bid to lure back customers

Key Points
  • Chorizo returns to Chipotle's menu a year after it was pulled to make room for the burrito chain's queso launch.
  • At the time, Chorizo accounted for only 3 percent of protein sales, but was a fan favorite of some diners.
  • The relaunch of chorizo as a limited-time menu item comes as Chipotle is once again trying to persuade customers to dine at its restaurants after yet another food safety issue.
Chipotle chorizo
Source: Chipotle

A year after pulling chorizo from its menu, Chipotle Mexican Grill is bringing its spicy pork and chicken back to restaurants — but only for a limited time.

Chorizo accounted for only 3 percent of protein sales and was nixed from Chipotle's nationwide menu to make room for the burrito chain's queso.

"Chorizo had a big following in its heyday, and a lot of our customers were disappointed when it was taken off the menu," Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, said in a statement.

The company began testing chorizo in select restaurants in June 2016 before rolling out the menu item nationwide in October of that year. The addition of chorizo was uncharacteristic of the burrito chain at that time, but was indicative of Chipotle's desire to drive traffic back to its restaurants.

That still holds true today, however. The relaunch of chorizo as a limited-time menu item comes as Chipotle is once again trying to convince customers to dine at its restaurants. An outbreak of Clostridium perfringens, a foodborne disease that occurs when food is kept warm for too long, that was traced back last month to a Chipotle in Ohio, stymied sales in the third quarter, according to analyst Nick Setyan of Wedbush.

Almost 700 customers reported gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, diarrhea and fever, after eating at the Chipotle restaurant in late July, according to local health officials. The incident dealt another blow to Chipotle, which has spent years trying to persuade diners and investors it has improved its food safety practices.

Despite this setback, shares of the company remain up more than 66 percent since January. Much of that growth comes from investors' confidence in Chipotle's new CEO, Brian Niccol.

Niccol left the helm at Yum Brands' Taco Bell to take the top spot at Chipotle in March and has been the catalyst for many changes that are happening at the chain.

Niccol's strategy to woo customers back to the troubled burrito chain focuses on introducing new and limited-time new menu items, as well as faster mobile and online ordering and a new marketing campaign. He's using much of the same playbook he used running Taco Bell, hoping to turn Chipotle into more than just a restaurant, but a lifestyle.

The company is about halfway through an initiative he calls the "big fix," updating the lighting, painting and other fixtures as needed across the chain. The upgrades will be completed by the end of the year.

The company has also extended its restaurant's hours, opening earlier and closing later and looking at adding a "happy hour" with snack items and drinks in the afternoon and after 8 p.m.