New Chipotle CEO plans menu 'tweaks,' and maybe drive-thrus

NEW YORK — The new CEO at Chipotle plans to make "simple menu tweaks," redesign its restaurants and expand its delivery service in the coming months.

Another longer-term possibility: drive-thrus, which CEO Brian Niccol said are an "interesting proposition for Chipotle."

Niccol didn't offer specifics on his plans, which he discussed for the first time Wednesday after joining the Denver-based company from Taco Bell last month. Wall Street analysts are eager to see how Niccol will put his stamp on Chipotle, which has long positioned itself as a step above fast food. His main job: bring customers back to Chipotle, which has struggled to regain its momentum after a 2015 E. coli outbreak sent sales plunging.

He said changes to the menu wouldn't divert much from Chipotle's brand, which promotes its use of "real ingredients" and "responsibly raised" meats.

Niccol spoke on a conference call Wednesday after the company reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue for the first quarter.

Its stock, which closed at $339.52 Wednesday, soared nearly 11 percent in after-hours trading.

The company said sales rose 2.2 percent at existing locations during the period, mainly due to higher menu prices, which gave that figure a 4.9 percent boost.

The Denver-based company said it had net income of $59.4 million, or $2.13 per share, in the three months ending March 31. That's up from $46.1 million, or $1.60 per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $1.15 billion in the period.

Niccol said he wants make Chipotle more relevant, but again didn't provide details. After he joined Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., he hired a new marketing executive who oversaw the launch of Taco Bell's cheese-dusted Doritos taco.

"I believe the brand has been invisible," said Niccol. "This brand needs to be leading culture, not reacting to it."

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