Business is booming.

SnapAV: Chipotle gets the queso

Chipotle Mexican Grill, the much-loved $41bn vendor of pulled-pork wraps and overpriced guacamole, reported its fourth-quarter and final-year results Tuesday evening.

And, wouldn’t you know it? Inflation, once again, doesn’t seem to be much of problem for a business that makes stuff people actually want.

From the results:

Restaurant level operating margin was 22.6%, an increase from 17.4% in 2020. The improvement was driven primarily by leverage from comparable restaurant sales and menu price increases, partially offset by wage inflation, higher commodity inflation primarily from freight and beef, as well as increased delivery expenses.

So that’s a 5 percentage point increase in its restaurants’ operating margin from 2020, despite all of the extra costs from messy supply chains, higher beef prices, and its decision to raise the average minimum wage at its grills from $13 to $15 — a not ungenerous 15 per cent increase.

Of course, 2020 isn’t exactly a fair comparison given the small matter of a pandemic shuttering restaurants all over the globe, but even compared with the halcyon days of 2019, Chipotle’s restaurant margin last year was some 2 percentage points higher.

But how much longer can Chipotle depend on pricing to offset rising costs? Well, in an interview with CNBC, chief executive Brian Niccol said the following:

I hope the inflationary environment slows down . . .to date we’ve seen no resistance from our customers [to price increases] . . . but the fact we have 6 per cent [price increase] planned so far for 2022 . . . and we have room to take more if we have to.

It’s almost as if, dare we suggest it, higher wages means more queso for people to spend on burritos.

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