Chipotle Competitors Analysis [2021]: What Are Their Biggest Challenges?

Founder, Steve Ells, had a dream after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America of opening a fine dining type restaurant. Chipotle was going to be the means of helping to make this dream come true. Starting out with an $85,000 loan from his dad, Steve opened his first Chipotle in Denver, Colorado.

Using as little money as possible on building materials to renovate a small, abandoned ice cream shop, Ells purchased plywood for stools and chairs, pipes for table legs, and barn metal for walls. He was able to open his first Chipotle restaurant in 1993 serving tacos and burritos.

Not realizing the revolutionary dining experience this type of décor and environment would bring, it ended up being instrumental in branding the type of food served in a new and unusual atmosphere.

To this day, not too much has changed in the décor and style of serving customers from the original Chipotle that was started just down the road from the University of Denver. Since things were going better than expected, Chipotle pushed Ells dream of a full-scale fine dining type of restaurant with white tablecloths to the side.

Breaking the mold for fast-food rules, Chipotle prefers fresh whole ingredients, prepares everything in house as a classy restaurant, and then serves customers in an interactive way, allowing customers to pick and choose exactly what they want.

This type of service is catching on quickly as customers see that their food hasn’t been sitting under heat lamps, but is in fact fresh and hot when served.

Offering Customers Great Food is Top Priority

Chipotle

At first, Ells was purchasing and serving meat products he felt were as natural and organic as possible for his restaurants. However, he came to realize that it needed to go much deeper than just freshness.

After observing a pig farm and how the pigs were confined inside a building 24/7, Ells was disturbed enough to stop purchasing pork, and various other meats that were raised on industrial farms.

Ells started purchasing his selective meats for his restaurants that were raised on open ranch farms instead. Chipotle, at one time, was known for purchasing more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant company in the world.

Not only was Ells concerned where his meat came from, he also considered it important to choose freshness when it came to his toppings. Chipotle purchased cilantro from organic farms while using locally owned farms to stock their toppings of lettuce, peppers, and oregano.

Chipotle’s focus on ingredients and services soon took up the mission statement, “Food with Integrity,” which in turn has been very profitable for Chipotle and has been extremely inviting to their customers.

Unlike Chipotle’s competitors, Chipotle’s menu has basically stayed the same since the opening of their first store in 1993. Having a simple menu and not constantly adding new items to that menu helped keep Chipotle financially focused.

While many other restaurants constantly put money into advertising, Chipotle does not. Keeping it simple also was a plus in not having to train and teach their employees how to fix any new items.

Fixing your own taco or burrito allowed Chipotle’s customers to come up with several different combinations and flavors to enjoy. That meant it really wasn’t necessary for Chipotle to consider adding new items to their already pleasing menu. One item that they did add, however, was their Sofritas.

Sofritas focuses on a vegan filling made of tofu and were first offered in their California restaurants as a test run before adding it to their menu nationally. Sofritas are widely accepted and enjoyed by vegans but also draw the attention of non-vegetarians.

Bringing on a Challenge to Their Competitors

Chipotle

Competition doesn’t bring harm, but it does bring better direction and more challenges to a company. Acquiring the name Fast Casual for this type of dining has been readily accepted among competitors.

It’s bringing to light additional ways to improve and adjustment, not just for Chipotle, but for other individual dining facilities to make it work for them.

Competitors may not offer full table service, but they are offering a higher quality of food and a better atmosphere. Fast Casual is the fastest growing type of restaurant business right now in the United States.

Chipotle’s Mission for Leadership Quality

People culture is an important aspect that companies of today are watching and using whenever possible. Chipotle takes people culture to another level. They don’t just say it, they work it. In the beginning days, C-level executives of Chipotle made it a mission to visit their restaurants and interview every employee throughout the year.

Their goal was to make each employee feel at ease while checking on what’s taking place at the restaurant. High priority to the early day’s executive was their team and how that team worked together. Chipotle desired to hire better people to help upgrade the culture of the restaurant.

Reliable, discernable, and personable store managers were the heroes that Chipotle’s early day executives sought for, trusting that they knew how to make the correct, decisive move when hiring the most qualified person for the completion of their team.

Surprising Investor

By the year 1998, five years after the opening of the first Chipotle, Ells had opened 3 Chipotle restaurants, 2 in the state of Colorado and 1 in Kansas City, Missouri.

During this time, McDonald’s had been interested in what was taking place within this new establishment and started making minor investments into the Chipotle company.

As Chipotle continued to prosper, McDonald’s became their largest investor in 2001. Upon this investment, expansion of the restaurant began to explode. By the year 2005, over 500 restaurants were in business and Ells perceived it necessary to appoint Monty Moran as president and chief operating officer of his stores.

After 8 years of investments, McDonald’s parted ways with the Fast Casual food chain as well as several other food chain investments, so as they could focus more on their own restaurant food chain.

Ups and Downs

Chipotle Restaurant

  • 2008 – Toronto Canada, first restaurant opened outside of the United States
  • 2008 – Hepatitis and Norovirus outbreak
  • 2009 – Monty Moran, president of Chipotle, was appointed co-CEO with Ells
  • 2009 – Campylobacter jejuni outbreak, possibly caused by undercooked chicken contaminating the lettuce
  • 2010 – Ranked third in fastest-growing restaurant chains
  • 2010/2011 – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audits, resulting in over 450 employees being fired
  • 2015 – Norovirus, Salmonella and E. coli bacteria outbreak – several cases throughout the year
  • 2016 – Co-CEO Monty Moran resigns his position
  • 2017 – Ells resigns his position as CEO
  • 2017 – Norovirus outbreak
  • 2018 – CEO Brian Niccol from Taco Bell replaces Ells as CEO, Ells retains his position as chairman
  • 2018 – Chipotle headquarters are relocated after 25 years in Denver, to Southern California
  • 2018 – Clostridium perfringens outbreak
  • 2018 – 65 underachieving restaurants were closed
  • 2020 – Ells stepped down as chairman and resigned from the board of directors breaking any ties with Chipotle
  • 2004 & 2017 – two recognized occurrences of customer’s credit card information compromised

A Comparison of Mexican Fast Foods

With such a variety of flavorful Mexican fast foods, how does one determine which one is best? There are several factors that run through one’s mind when choosing where to eat. Factors such as pricing, quality of food, service, and location.

Pricing among most Mexican fast-food restaurants isn’t much different from one another for a basic meal. It all lies in what type of meat you choose along with any extra toppings. Watch out for the way the restaurant offers a meal.

For instance, they may offer combination meals that make your meal cheaper than ordering a la carte. You’ll find that individual pricing can add up to be more than expected.

Nutritional value is a highly regarded bit of information customers of the twenty-first century like to know. Chipotle is known for their fresh, organic ingredients and open range meats.

Chipotle’s competitors don’t exactly state where their choices of ingredients or meats are purchased but they do post the nutritional values of their meal ingredients.

Services are vastly important and should be as high on the list as any one of these other factors. Friendly smiles and a “Welcome,” spoken as you walk into the establishment are always a plus and bring an appetizing atmosphere.

It’s always nice to have your favorite restaurant close at hand and easy access. But when push comes to shove and you love your Mexican food place, you’ll do anything to get it no matter where it is located.

Qdoba vs Chipotle

Qdoba

Qdoba is considered a fast casual restaurant like Chipotle, but it comes from the owners of Jack in the Box. As crazy as it may seem, Qdoba is also a Denver established restaurant chain and in 1995, opened its first store just four miles from the first Chipotle restaurant, two years after the 1993 opening of Chipotle.

Amazingly, this restaurant was very successful from the start and still is in business today.

After going through several name changes, some of which brought on lawsuits, the name, Qdoba, was brought to birth by an ad agency in 1999.

Qdoba has gone through several difficult law situations from its rival competitors. Situations that have gone as far as not allowing Qdoba to open a store in a shopping center in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts because of a signed contract by Panera, stating that Panera would be the only sandwich store allowed in the shopping center area.

The judge overseeing this case agreed with Qdoba stating that, “A sandwich is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice and beans.” The judge’s ruling allowed Qdoba to open for business.

This particular Qdoba has since closed, but a new restaurant located elsewhere in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts area allows other competitors like Chipotle and Moe’s to take on the Panera Bread competition from across the street.

Qdoba also wanted a healthier menu, as did Chipotle, consisting of vegetable oils rather than the customary animal fats. They were also in the market of offering fresh vegetables and herbs as often as possible. However, you won’t find a tofu option on their menu.

Moe’s Southwest Grill vs Chipotle

Moe’s Southwest Grill

Often referred to as Moe’s, this fast casual restaurant was birthed in the year 2000 down in Atlanta, Georgia. Even though Moe’s had less than half the number of locations than Chipotle, in 2016 Moe’s was considered the “Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant of the Year,” according to survey that was taken from Harris Poll Equi Trend.

Moe’s menu offers a of great assortment of savory Mexican foods like its competitor, Chipotle. Moe’s doesn’t advertise their preference of where they obtain their ingredients, but they do list the nutritional value of their purchased ingredients for their customers.

They offer additional protein choices as does Chipotle, including pinto or black beans. Their meat protein consists of brisket, pork, natural white or dark adobo chicken, steak, or ground beef and they even offer an organic tofu filling for vegetarians, as does Chipotle.

Moe’s goes all out when it comes to their menu options. They have an assortment of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, burrito bowls and salads. Moe’s totally surpasses its competitors when it comes to toppings. Who can pass up the options of grilled mushrooms, olives, cucumbers, fresh jalapenos, along with diced tomatoes and onions?

Their options on southwest ranch, rock and roll and southwest vinaigrette sauces are another hard choice for customers. Unlike Chipotle, Moe’s offers three different types of meal kits including a taco kit, fajita kit and a nacho kit to take back home to your party.

Customer’s Opinions

Qdoba Guacamole

  • Doesn’t cost extra – music to everyone’s ears
  • Noticeably different than Chipotle – similar to the packaged kind in your local grocery store
  • Bold flavor, with a tart and tasty bite

Chipotle Guacamole

  • Extra cost but worth every dime
  • Zesty accent of cilantro
  • Buttery, smooth and mellow in flavor

Moe’s Southwest Grill Guacamole

  • Made fresh daily from Hass avocados
  • Accented with chopped onions, tomatoes, fresh cilantro
  • Topped with a squeeze of fresh lime

Qdoba Burrito

  • Could usually use more meat
  • Packed with a good amount of rice
  • Several types of quesos to choose for extra flavor
  • Free guac

Chipotle Burrito

  • Satisfyingly stuffed with a nice serving of meat
  • Plenty of rice and salsa
  • Guac is added with an extra cost
  • Messy but delicious to the end

Moe’s Southwest Grill Burrito

  • Nice portion of meat from a wide variety of choices (Homewrecker Burrito)
  • Served with seasoned rice
  • Several different and unique toppings to add
  • Guac is included at no extra charge

Qdoba Tacos

  • Served with plenty of lettuce
  • Needs more meat
  • Reasonably priced for 3 tacos

Chipotle Tacos

  • Nice amount of lettuce, not too much, not too little, just right
  • Always a good amount of meat served
  • A little higher priced than the competitor but wow, they taste great!

Moe’s Southwest Grill Tacos

  • Choice of fried or steamed tortilla
  • Nice portions of meat given and don’t forget their unique toppings
  • Pricing is a little high for 3 tacos but worth it

Qdoba Burrito Bowl

  • Comes with an easy seal plastic lid
  • Large and flavorful fajita peppers
  • Plain white rice but it still tastes good with all the other added ingredients

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

  • Tough to get back on foil lid
  • Plan on combining your ingredients as they are placed from one end of the bowl down to the other end
  • Very flavorful rice which adds to the meal in a positive way

Moe’s Southwest Grill Burrito Bowl

  • Think outside the tortilla and you have your Homewrecker Burrito Bowl
  • Adding pico de gallo, sour cream and free guac finishes the creation
  • Comes with their seasoned rice

FAQ

For those who love fast casual Mexican, there are quite a few options you may want to consider, but Chipotle is one of the most well-known. These frequently asked questions will help you learn a bit more.

Question: Who is Chipotle’s Biggest Competitor?

Answer: Some of Chipotle’s largest competitors include Qdoba, Moe’s Baja Fresh, Rubio’s, and even Taco Bell. Surprisingly, Taco Bell has started to improve the quality of their food, which means you can expect fresher ingredients, although sourcing is unknown.

Question: Why is Chipotle so Expensive?

Answer: Chipotle prides itself on responsible sourcing and fresh ingredients, which costs more to acquire and maintain. They aim for quality and consumers benefit from pure ingredients that are healthier for them.

Question: Does McDonald’s own Chipotle?

Answer: It’s a common misconception that McDonald’s owns Chipotle, but up until 2006, they were Chipotle’s largest investor. They withdrew their investment in the company in 2006 and no longer own a stake in Chipotle.
However, you may find it interesting that former CEO of Taco Bell, Brian Niccol, is now the CEO of Chipotle.

Final Thoughts

Your fast casual Mexican meal of choice will depend on your preferences. Chipotle is the original, and their menu remains familiar to everyone who steps foot inside.

However, if you want free guac, you’ll have to look at Qdoba. And for all of the extra toppings you can handle, Moe’s just might be your favorite.

Scroll to Top