Chipotle Raises the Beverage Bar to Overcome Challenges

Image: Mark Antonation

Despite the challenges and setbacks the Chipotle chain has faced in recent months, the company continues to come up with new ideas to help curtail the slow in traffic. Most recently, Chipotle has turned their attention to beverage selections.

In terms of alcohol, master sommelier and winemaker Richard Betts has been brought in to help create a new initiative. Chipotle has served a Margarita since its inception in markets where permitted, and a few years ago the chain upped their game with premium versions of the drink. These premium options are elevated through the use of Sauza and Patrón tequilas. A new frozen margarita made with Betts’ Sombra Mezcal, Astral tequila, agave syrup, and fresh lemon and lime juices is set to be tested. Eppa Sangria, which claims to be the only sangria made with organic “superfruit juices and crafted with select varietal wine made with organically grown grapes,” is available as well. The sangria will soon be shipped in kegs for draft service. Chipotle is also adding a draft beer from popular Colorado craft brewer Oskar Blues. Called Beerito, this beer is a light-bodied, lower alcohol amber Mexican lager rolled out by the brewery earlier this month. Beerito joins canned Modelo Especial as the beer selections. Chipotle had previously offered several bottled beers, but not in the test program.

For non-alcoholic beverages there’s a watermelon agua fresca, a hibiscus, rooibos and lemongrass tea, and a new iced tea recipe. Other soft drinks include Coke Life (sweetened with stevia extract and cane sugar rather than corn syrup) and Blue Sky fountain sodas, packaged Izze sodas, and Evolution Fresh juices.

Alcohol has typically represented about 2% of Chipotle's business, but clearly the chain is looking to advance the sluggish pace of those sales by expanding these offerings. By dialing up the freshness, trend-forward and curiosity factors with their soft drinks, the chain is setting the bar a little higher for fast casual and casual dining chains that have remained mired in their old ways draining every penny from their routine and tired non-alcohol offerings. Chipotle’s success proves that chains can no longer afford to avoid upgrading their alcohol selections.

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