McDonald’s and Chipotle are winning the fast food and quick-service restaurant (QSR) wars in the U.S. market.
According to a recent report from foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, titled 2022 and Beyond: Catching Up With McDonald’s & Chipotle, both chains have maintained momentum even in the pandemic era and are ready for another good year ahead, beating the rest of the QSR sector.
“Chipotle’s continued success would be noteworthy under normal circumstances, but considering the broader headwinds facing the dining space more broadly and Fast Casual and Full-Service categories more specifically — the results are all the more impressive,” Ethan Chernofsky, SVP of marketing at Placer.ai, said. “The continued ability to drive visits in a difficult economic environment speaks to both the draw of the product and the perception of value for the brand’s core constituency. It also validates strategic decisions to spread location to more suburban areas, a shift that kept Chipotle in alignment with wider migration and virtual work shifts.”
In the last year, QSR restaurants have benefited from the resurgence of inflation, which caused a “trade down” from more expensive to less expensive products and services.
The “trading down” is a broad trend. It extends across several consumer areas, from dining to grocery, superstores, discount and off-price, apparel, dollar stores and shopping malls.
The Placer.ai report notes that Chipotle has raised its store count from 2,500 stores in 2019 to almost 3,100 as of September 2022, and more are on the way. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is gaining momentum through new store openings, store refurbishings and automation.
For the fourth quarter of 2022, McDonald’s visits climbed 26.2% from the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to a 10.4% gain in the QSR sector. In addition, the company’s year-over-year traffic was up 29.4% compared to a 0.6% decline for the QSR sector.
Chipotle’s traffic displayed a similar pattern. Visits to its stores rose 28.7% as overall visits to fast-casual restaurants dropped 27.2%. Year-over-year traffic was up 10.2%, compared to an 18.5% decline for the fast-casual sector.
These data bode well for the fourth quarter earnings reports of the two companies to be released in the next couple of weeks.
Still, Quo Vadis Capital President John Zolidis is skeptical about Chipotle’s prospects due to the company’s aggressive price hikes in a challenging macroeconomic environment.
“Our view is that aggressive price increases in a weakening consumer environment are already having a material negative impact on CMG transactions, which were down MSD in the third quarter and nearly 10% in the month of October,” he wrote in a note to his subscribers.
Zolidis, who has a sell rating for the stock, is mainly concerned over an estimated 25% YOY decline in digital orders during the third quarter. “While CMG’s digital order falloff is probably mostly due to customers feeling comfortable and coming back into restaurants, the comment below seems to acknowledge that cost is a factor behind this change.”