Chipotle Sales Down 20% In 2016; Still Working On That Comeback Thing

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

The good news for burrito chain Chipotle is that its sales are up for the first time in six quarters. The company’s food safety nightmare began in Oct. 2015, and since then the company has either been in crisis mode or trying to recover. The chain’s latest quarterly results show that the recovery isn’t complete, but at least its sales are up a little bit.

How bad was it? It took until Dec. 2016 for sales to finally begin trending back up, but that’s only because they’re comparing it to Dec. 2015, when an E. coli outbreak hit stores with no clear relationship to each other.

Over all of 2016, comparable store sales were down 20%, but the chain kept opening new restaurants and plans to keep opening more restaurants in 2017. Profits were down 77% in the fourth quarter of the year, but the chain did still turn a profit.

Factors other than the food safety crisis also affected Chipotle: The rising price of avocados, for example, took a bite out of its profits, and will probably make its upcoming free chips and guacamole promotion an even more expensive endeavor. The company is considering a small price increase, but that could also be a terrible idea while still trying to win back customers.

One mysterious menu addition for Chipotle is dessert, which the company says that it’s testing, but has been teasing since last fall. What could that dessert be? Cilantro-lime rice pudding? Tortillas with Nutella? Dessert guac? Churros are a popular guess, but we’ll find out if the mystery dessert ever leaves the test phase. (If you encounter any of those tests out in the wild, please let us know.)