It’s first-quarter earnings call season, nerds. These calls offer a cornucopia of data for fast food industry obsessives, highlighting the highs, lows, and tragic failures of the industry on a quarterly basis. Chipotle’s first-quarter call occurred Wednesday, April 27, and CEO Brian Niccol shared one intriguing takeaway: the company is once again looking to invest in a dessert offering. As an industry obsessive (am I pathetic???), I’m taking this to mean one thing: consumers are ready to slow down and dine again.
Per CNN Business, Niccol told analysts that “dessert is an area where we see opportunity.” This is excellent news for the Takeout team, as we prefer to be surrounded by desserts at all times. This isn’t the first time Chipotle has considered a dessert debut; Takeout managing editor Marnie Shure reported on this last fall, explaining that the chain has “tested a handful of dessert items, however, nothing has passed the stage-gate process for a national rollout.” Defeated desserts include a Mexican Chocolate Shake. Hello, Chipotle? This is destiny calling. The people demand the shake.
Fortunately, it seems like the chain’s CEO seems bent on releasing a permanent dessert item. But why now?
Like I mentioned above, it seems that consumers are ready to slow down and dine again. This isn’t just a Lillian Stone Conspiracy Theory; there’s data to back it up. Foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai told The Takeout that Chipotle has seen visit levels “exceed pre-pandemic levels every week this year” up until the firm’s data collection period ended during the week of April 11. Per Placer.ai, foot traffic at Chipotle was up 12.7% during the week of April 11, 17.8% during the week of April 4, and 11.7% during the week of March 28, compared to the same weeks in 2019.
Meanwhile, stocks are extremely volatile for food delivery giants like Just Eat Takeaway, GrubHub’s parent company, as well as European delivery service Delivery Hero. Per Reuters, services like GrubHub and DoorDash are facing “stiff competition and a fading pandemic boost.”
My theory? Consumers are burnt out on high delivery costs, long waits, and the general strangeness of a faceless, delivery-focused food economy. If Placer.ai’s Chipotle foot traffic data is to be believed, consumers are skipping the drive-thru and flocking back to quick-service restaurants (QSRs), potentially in an effort to return to sit-down dining. With that, it makes sense that Chipotle is considering investing in a dessert option. Short of a Jollibee hand pie, super-speedy dining doesn’t lend itself to the dessert experience. Now that customers are creeping back into restaurant dining rooms, companies have more room to run in terms of innovative menu offerings. Will that come in the form of a Mexican Chocolate Shake? We’ll just have to wait and see.