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Chipotle crushes sales estimates during fourth quarter

Heidi Chung

Chipotle crushed estimates on the top and bottom lines. Shares initially fell 3% before paring losses in after-hours trading. Shares of the burrito giant hit all-time highs Tuesday.

Here were the main numbers for Chipotle’s fourth quarter, compared to Bloomberg estimates:

  • Revenue: $1.44 billion vs. $1.4 billion expected

  • Adjusted earnings per share: $2.86 vs. $2.73 expected

  • Same-store sales: +13.4% vs. +9.8% expected

A Chipotle burrito. (Photo by DAVID BREWSTER/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

The company’s digital sales during the fourth quarter grew 78.3% and accounted for 19.6% of total sales. Digital orders have been growing at a rapid clip and are important to Chipotle’s business because they usually have higher check averages and create a much more seamless experience for customers. In the third quarter, digital sales accounted for 18.2% of Chipotle’s total sales for the quarter.

"We had a strong ending to 2019 as Q4 marks the eighth-consecutive quarter of accelerating comparable sales, which highlights that running great restaurants with the right leaders and the right culture is delivering outstanding financial performance," CEO Brian Niccol said in a statement. 

"For the full year, Chipotle's average unit volumes exceeded $2.2 million and digital sales surpassed a billion dollars, showing that our key strategies are working, and the Chipotle brand is thriving as we build a sustainable model that helps cultivate a better world."

During the fourth-quarter, Chipotle opened 80 new restaurants, 46 of which included drive-thrus, also known as Clipotlanes. The company opened 66 new stores with Chipotlanes during 2019.

For the full year, revenue increased 14.8% from 2018 and totaled $5.6 billion with same-store sales growing 11.1%, boosted by 7% transaction growth and a 4.1% increase in the average check, according to the company. Meanwhile, 2019 restaurant level operating margin was 20.5% for 2019, an improvement from 18.7% in 2018.

Looking to 2020, Chipotle expects mid-single digit comparable restaurant sales growth and plans to open 150 to 165 new restaurants with more than half featuring Chipotlanes.

Chipotle’s fourth-quarter results come on the heels of a strong third quarter, when the fast-casual chain reported 11% same-store sales growth and nearly 88% growth in digital sales.

Analysts and investors have applauded Chipotle’s successful strategic execution over the past couple of years as the company attempted to rebrand and rebuild after a devastating slew of food-borne illness cases rocked the company. CEO Brian Niccol took the helm in 2018, and menu innovation, digital initiatives and delivery expansion fueled a turnaround. Shares were up 183% over the past two years, as of Tuesday’s close.

Most recently, the September launch of carne asada, boosted traffic and was strong performer for the company at a higher price point. Carne asada is the newest protein to hit Chipotle menus since the return of chorizo in September 2018. Chipotle has also been testing its new queso blanco in select cities but has not announced whether it would be hitting nationwide menus.

Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.

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