Chipotle Looks to Europe as U.S. Sales Suffer

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Chipotle Mexican Grill, facing slow sales and a tarnished image in its home country, is looking to make a bigger push in Europe.

The company named Jim Slater as the company's new managing director in Europe, turning to a veteran of Costa Coffee and Bombay Sapphire Gin to help expand the chain on that side of the Atlantic. Mr. Slater will be located in the U.K. and oversee the strategy and growth of the European business, Chipotle said in a statement on Monday.

Chipotle is coming off a tumultuous year in the U.S., where multiple foodborne-illness outbreaks hammered sales and its stock price. Earlier this month, activist investor Bill Ackman announced he would push for changes at the chain.

The new executive is starting from a small base in Europe. As of the end of last year, the company had just seven locations in England, four in France and one in Germany. Mexican food has traditionally been a hard sell in the region, with other chains such as Taco Bell making limited inroads there.

But Chipotle's focus on ingredients should strike a chord with Europeans, Mr. Slater said in the statement.

"Chipotle's commitment to better food from ingredients raised and grown with respect for animals, farmers and the environment is consistent with how many Europeans eat and the brand is one that really resonates with customers here," Mr. Slater said. "The company has tremendous opportunity in Europe."

Meanwhile, Chipotle publicized its latest giveaway as it keeps trying to woo patrons back to its U.S. restaurants. Throughout September, high school and college students with valid IDs can get a free fountain soft drink or iced tea with any entrée purchase, the chain said Monday.

The offer overlaps with an ongoing promotion that gives families a free kid's meal with the purchase of an entrée on any Sunday in September. The September deals are the latest in a string of promotions Chipotle has been running to get people back into its restaurants. Earlier this year, it offered separate buy one, get one entrée deals for teachers and nurses.

-- Bloomberg News, with Ad Age staff