Chipotle Q4 earnings boosted by digital surge, sees bigger restaurant footprint

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Chipotle (CMG) on Tuesday posted fourth-quarter earnings report that mostly beat market expectations, with growth driven by a digital boom accounting for nearly 42% of sales, sending its stock on a tear in after-hours trading.

Here’s what the California-based company reported, compared to Wall Street’s expectations, according to a Bloomberg consensus estimate:

Shares of Chipotle, which were down nearly 3 percent compared to a year ago, spiked by over 7% in post-market trading after the earnings release.

In the full fiscal year of 2021, Chipotle’s total revenue increased 26.1% to $7.5 billion. While same-store sales increased 19.4%, digital sales soared 24.7% and accounted for 45.6% of sales in all. In the earnings call following the report, Niccol noted digital sales grew three times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 era trend of app-based ordering allowed the chain to up its forecast for new restaurants, saying there can be “at least” 7,000 in North America, up from the prior target of 6,000. Chipotle is also estimating unit growth to be in the range of 8% to 10% per year, with over 80% of new restaurants featuring at “Chipotlane” for drive-through orders.

“Moving forward, we believe expanding access and convenience through our digital ecosystem, accelerating unit growth, and continuing to develop and support our restaurant employees, will put us in a much stronger competitive position,” Brian Niccol, Chipotle chairman and CEO, said in the report.

Commodity inflation took a toll on the restaurant chain with food, beverage and packing costs accounting for 31.6% of total revenue in the fourth quarter, an increase of 60 basis points, compared to Q4 of 2020.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JUNE 09: Employees are shown working at a Chipotle Mexican Grill on June 09, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Menu prices at Chipotle Mexican Grill have risen by roughly four percent to cover the costs of raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees. The restaurant industry has been boosting wages in the hopes of attracting workers during a labor crunch. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, TEXAS – JUNE 09: Employees are shown working at a Chipotle Mexican Grill on June 09, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Menu prices at Chipotle Mexican Grill have risen by roughly four percent to cover the costs of raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees. The restaurant industry has been boosting wages in the hopes of attracting workers during a labor crunch. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

More specifically, the report cited the spike was primarily from elevated inflation on beef and freight and to “a lesser extent” avocado costs that “more than offset” the leverage from menu price increases that the company announced. In June of 2021, the rise in menu prices were intended to offset the costs of rising the hourly minimum wage to $15 dollars, while the company announced menu price increases once again in December of 2021.

This comes as innovation in its menus and digitization takes the main stage.

In September, the company announced smoked brisket as a limited-time offering at U.S. locations, which was met by “healthy demand” for the limited-time offering. And late last year, it announced a new prototype in Ohio, dubbed the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen, that offers offers drive-through and walk-up window for digital order pickup and delivery only.

In Q4, the company opened 78 new restaurants with 67 of those offering a Chipotlane. During all of 2021, the company opened 215 new locations, bringing the total restaurant count to 2,996. As of year-end, there are now a total of 355 Chipotlanes.

Chipotle noted that the restaurant designs continue “to perform very well and are helping enhance guest access and convenience, as well as increase new restaurant sales, margins, and returns.”

In the first-quarter, the company expects same-same sales to grow in the mid to high single digit range, and anticipates ordering somewhere between 235 to 250 new restaurant openings.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at [email protected]

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