Tale of the Tape: Taco Bell vs. Chipotle

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After years of domination, Taco Bell is on the defensive against chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has shot from relative obscurity to No. 2 in just a few years. And while a strict comparison isn't strictly fair, we're not the only ones who think at least one of Taco Bell's strategies sounds a bit familiar. "Why, in a 30-second Taco Bell TV spot, would every other word be 'chipotle'? Let me guess," wrote Rocky Mountain News Business Editor Rob Reuteman. "The world's largest Mexican-food chain may want to squash any potential competitor before it even gets started."

Taco terminology

Chipotle: Bol, Carnitas, Barbacoa, Margarita, Cilantro, Tomatillo

Taco Bell: Zesty Sauce, Gordita, Chalupa, Crunchwrap, Border Bowl, Fresco Style

Culinary cred

Chipotle: Food cooked and prepared in front of customers. Live-action video on website of food being prepped, mixed and cooked from scratch. Steve Ells, founder and chairman-CEO, holds degree from Culinary Institute of America.

Taco Bell: Says food is "layered, loaded, grilled, melted and topped fresh for you, right when you order it." Employees say meats are "add water and heat."

A buck and a quarter gets you:

Chipotle: Chips and salsa, $1.25

Taco Bell: Half-pound beef combo burrito, $1.29

2005 sales rank among top 100 chains:

Chipotle: 55

Taco Bell: 5

2005 same-store sales growth:

Chipotle: 10.2%

Taco Bell: 7%

Same-store sales growth streak:

Chipotle: 8 years

Taco Bell: 3 years, 7 months

owner

Chipotle: Majority owned by McDonald's

Taco Bell: Yum Brands

positioning

Chipotle: "Honest ingredients" and "food with integrity"

Taco Bell: Bold alternative to burgers

share of mexican limited-service chains 2001

Chipotle: 2%

Taco Bell: 67%

share of mexican limited-service chains 2005

Chipotle: 6%

Taco Bell: 58%

what the experts say:

Chipotle: "The chain's unit-growth potential remains outstanding, given the quality of the food/experience (and consumers' embrace of such) and possibilities for same-sales performance that exceeds the company's communicated goals," said Mark Kalinowski, restaurant analyst for Buckingham Research Group, in a July 31 investor note.

Taco Bell: "Their weakness is in their image," said Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. "[Fast-casual chains] portray their food as fresh Mexican foods with not a lot of preservatives and fats. That's where Taco Bell is lacking."
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