Chipotle Tests the Market With Tasty Made

Chipotle Tests the Market With Tasty Made

Chipotle Tests the Market With Tasty Made 1440 428 Chute Gerdeman

Ever since the E. Coli outbreak in November of 2015, fast casual chain Chipotle, known for “food with integrity,” has been working to rebuild trust with consumers and bounce back to its pre-2015 success. While a full brand recovery might take some time, they’ve been busy with a new concept  Tasty Made focused on burgers, fries, and shakes.

During an interview, Chipotle executive and Tasty Made Concept Director, Dave Chrisman said the new concept was a way for Chipotle to change how people think about fast food. “This puts us in a really special position. Because we’re now serving what is traditionally a classic American meal of cheeseburgers, fries and shakes, sort of actually aligns to kind of competing with traditional fast food and do it through ways that Chipotle has done in serving quality ingredients, and a focused menu.”

The concept promises “a new spin on old-school favorites” like their Tasty Bacon Sauce, which is a smokier version of ketchup. Burgers are grilled to order, fries are hand cut (and twice fried), and shakes are made with real ice cream and mixed by hand. But the brand is pushing its beef with this “better burger” concept. Much like Chipotle’s sourcing methods, they chose naturally raised beef by animals raised without growth hormones or antibiotics (and never frozen).

With a handful of major QSR and fast casual brands headquartered in Columbus, it’s a well-known and viable test market for new food innovations and prototype restaurants. With that said, lunching this “better burger” concept on the outskirts of Columbus in small strip center in Lancaster, Ohio might not be the first place that would come to mind. Having grown up just a few miles away, Chrisman felt like the market was an ideal area to test the concept.

Given the launch in our own backyard, and that we’d never turn down a chance to eat a good ole fashioned hamburger, we went to see what the concept was all about. Like any brand, we understood know there are usually kinks to work out when launching a new concept, but we’re always objective in our analysis.

Upon arrival you get the feel that the 1950’s retro theme is a clear throwback to simpler times, but they might have taken it too far, almost basic. Sure, there won’t be years of history to harken back to some nostalgic story, but you don’t really get a sense for the brand or the emphasis around this better burger position and high-quality ingredients. Seating and tables felt almost cafeteria style, and while the floor to ceiling windows were great for letting in the natural light, the lack of signage anywhere made the space feel a little emotionally cold.

With a minimal menu, one wouldn’t expect a large menu board, but its almost dainty off centered position made it feel further awkward within the space. And while Chipotle is known for its transparent food station prep, the Tasty Made menu lacks some of the romance you get from the build-your-own burrito set up. Single cashier station pods gave customers possibly too much insight into the inner workings of the kitchen.

Customer queuing presented some challenges, too. Even though we visited during opening day, a high-traffic Saturday or peak evening daypart could easily present the same issue. After ordering, customers were shuffled down to an end counter space to collect food based on their order number, leaving the line a little congested between order placement and food pickup.

An almost equally high volume of traffic flowed through the drive thru, which provided a real perspective on what customers might experience during a busy day. Entering the lane between the adjacent strip center, cars were backed up in front of the building and blocked parked customers and those attempting to leave. From our observation though, orders seemed to be delivered to customers at a quick serve pace.

We haven’t been the only ones with initial observations of the concept. Over the past few months, customers have publicly shared their experience online through reviews and social media feedback—the brand took note. While most comments focused on the food over the experience, changes had to be made. Almost 90% of the brand’s customers weren’t aware of the “Responsibly Raised” meat promise, which made sense having visited the space. As a result, the brand nixed the “responsibly raised” beef in favor of a less expensive, conventionally raised beef, dropped prices, changed its beef supply, and added combo meals. The success story of Tasty Made may just be its drive thru. Reportedly 52% of sales can be accounted for in the drive thru, and they even started sending employees armed with iPads directly to cars to take orders.

The next Tasty Made restaurant opening is slated for February 2017 in nearby city Pickerington, Ohio. We’re excited to see what modifications the brand will adopt beyond the menu and price point adjustments already made.

As the lines between fast casual and fast food continue to blur, it’s a growing challenge for restaurant brands to find the right equation between price, quality, experience and service. Understanding the consumer, regional nuances, market opportunity, and having a clear concept position, will play a critical role in hitting the mark.

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