Chipotle Mexican Grill, commonly known as Chipotle, has long been a favorite for folks who like a taste of Mexican food. They’ve been in business for nearly three decades. And in that time, they’ve built over 3000 locations in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and France. After 25 years in Denver, they moved their headquarters to California in 2018.
Where does it get its name?
The restaurant derived its name from a Native American word meaning a smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper. But it’s not just a name that makes a business, as you will see from the top 15 Chipotle competitors & alternatives coming up.
In the latest full fiscal year, the company reported a revenue of about $ 5.7 billion, with profits reaching around $340 million.
And it won’t stop there…
Recent studies have shown that the fast-casual restaurant market in the US alone is going to grow by around $150 billion in the next four years. So, there’s no reason the franchise can’t maintain its grip on a market share of almost $40 billion. But there are definitely a couple of competitors to keep an eye on.
So, I decided to take a closer look at fifteen of Chipotle’s biggest competitors. In terms of ranking, it will be down to taste and availability, essentially, as to which Chipotle competitor is the most popular in various areas.
- The Top 15 Chipotle Competitors & Alternatives
- More on Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Magic?
- The Top 15 Chipotle Competitors & Alternatives
The Top 15 Chipotle Competitors & Alternatives
1 Domino’s Pizza
Domino’s was founded in 1960 by Russel Weiner and is currently based in Michigan. The company has been around for just over sixty years, and in that time, they become the second-largest multinational Pizza restaurant in the world.
When it comes to Domino’s, most folks have a “love it or hate it” attitude toward their food. That being said, the ones who do like Domino’s, like it with an almost cult-like ferocity.
No doubt this dedicated core of fans has helped them grow as big as they have. In recent years, Domino’s has reported double-digit same-store sales compared to the previous years. However, Chipotle still beats them in terms of digital sales and online business sales, according to second-quarter figures from last year.
As of the end of the latest fiscal year, the famous Starbucks mermaid can be found emblazoned on more than 30,000 stores in more than 80 countries. The company is headquartered in Seattle and is officially the world’s largest coffeehouse chain.
The phenomenon known as coffee culture is often divided into three waves of popularity. Starbucks is considered responsible for the second wave, due to having expanded the “coffee and drink experience” into territory that had hitherto been unexplored.
Walk into any Starbucks now, and you can get coffee (ground, whole bean, and instant), Caffè lattes, or espresso, as well as a selection of full and loose-leaf teas, juices, Frappuccinos, pastries, and a bunch of other snacks. The brand has been expanding its menu a lot in recent years, and the more it does this, the more of a threat to Chipotle’s popularity it will pose. As well as to other popular food chain brands.
It’s hard to think that the Colonel’s chicken has been around for nearly a century. And while the “secret recipe” may have remained unchanged during that time, the KFC brand has not stagnated in the least. KFC is available in 150 countries at just over 22 and a half thousand locations. It is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain in terms of sales measurements globally.
Fried chicken will undoubtedly remain the company’s biggest draw, but you don’t last nearly 100 years in the fast food business without a bit of innovation. From wraps to sprinkle pops, desserts, and, most recently, a new type of sandwich, KFC is constantly changing and expanding in order to maintain its competitive edge.
4 Pizza Hut
Founded in the late 50s, Pizza Hut only opened its first location in 1962. The company was started by two brothers from Wichita who managed to make such a success of the first restaurant that they were able to open the second one within six months.
But a lot of people don’t know…
The company was bought by Pepsi in the late 70s, along with Taco Bell and KFC. The three brands were made part of the larger Tricon Global Restaurants brand in 1997, Tricon was renamed Yum! in 2002, and all three chains remain part of it to this day.
Pizza Hut has over 18000 locations worldwide, and the company employs around 350 thousand people. Making it the largest Pizza chain restaurant in the world. Don’t let the name fool you, though; along with pizza, they offer Tacos, Pasta, various chicken dishes, breadsticks, and even cajun-style fries.
No doubt, the constantly expanding menu makes Pizza Hut a serious competitor for Chipotle, as well as any chain restaurant.
Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s back in November of 1969. The company’s distinctive square patties on circular buns have become a favorite for hamburger lovers the world over. Its brand is well established, especially in the US, where there are over 6000 locations.
The company experienced steady growth in recent years…
They expect around 6% this year, and so far, it looks like they’re going to match and exceed that figure. From November of last fiscal year till January of this year, Wendy’s posted a profit of $41.3 million, with overall revenue reaching more than $500 million. This growth indicates that the company is eager to increase its market share, and no doubt, competitors like Chipotle, are taking notice.
6 Burger King
Burger King is another well-established name that has become world famous over its 70-year existence. Despite this toughness, it has always been viewed as being just one step behind its bigger competitors.
Most notably, McDonald’s…
However, a few years back, the company underwent a rebranding and expanded its competitive arsenal with some new ideas. The “off-premise” approach seeks to make the fast-food process even faster. So, customers can order their meals online and simply pick them up or have them delivered to their doorstep.
In fact, Burger King aims to make the dining process %100 percent touchless. And thanks to the decreased foot traffic, they can make their locations smaller as well.
Decreasing its carbon footprint…
So far, this new system has been receiving a lot of good feedback. Which has no doubt affected the bottom line of competitors.
7 Shake Shack
This company started as a simple hot-dog stand in Madison Square Park back in 2001. And Shake Shack is a true American success story. The founder, Danny Meyer, was one of the front runners of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Within a few years, the cart became a full-fledged restaurant. And in 2014, the company went public. The shares went for around $21 at the start of its first day of trading. And by the end of the day, the value had risen by 123% to $47.
Shake Shack currently has over 250 locations in the US alone, with another 141 international locations in places like China, South Korea, Mexico, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
The original New York location is so popular that the waiting time can stretch to over an hour. There’s even a live webcam feed on the website so that customers can check how long the line is before going to the restaurant. In terms of popularity and growth, Shake Shack is one of the biggest competitors in the game.
Chick-fil-A was founded nearly 80 years ago in Hapeville, Georgia. Founder and former chairman, S. Truet, Cathy (also well known for being associated with Dwarf Grill), came across a pressure cooker that could make a chicken sandwich in the same time it took to make a standard beef burger.
The chicken sandwich was nothing new when Chick-fil-A came around. But the speed and efficiency with which the poultry could be prepared had not been seen before. And so, the franchise took off.
But its quality assurance is what kept it ahead of the competition…
The franchise has remained a staple of the food industry in America due to its focus on quality and customer satisfaction. The American Customer Satisfaction Index named it the most popular brand for one of the most recent FYs.
The company’s annual revenue sits at just over $11.3 billion, with an average annual growth of 13%. Moreover, despite not having as many locations as its competitors, the franchise has managed to beat many of its rivals in terms of sales, including Taco Bell.
After so many decades, Chick-fil-A remains an old favorite and a serious competitor to other chains like Chipotle.
Freebirds is often termed as the fancier version of Chipotle. This is a Mexican-style restaurant that goes the extra mile in order to bring its customers dishes that aren’t as generic as the competition’s offerings.
The restaurant is famed for its delicious burritos, which contain only grass-fed steak and free-range chicken. Furthermore, you can find all kinds of quirky items on the menu, like traditional Spanish rice, instead of the usual cilantro-lime offered by most fast food chains. These quality ingredients mean that their food is a bit more expensive, but for a lot of foodies, it’s worth those extra pennies.
That being said…
Recent years have proven a bit tough for Freebirds, with recessions resulting in consumers who have less to spend. So, the company had to close several locations due to this. But they’re still holding on, thanks to a loyal following. At the moment, Freebirds is still one of the top competitors in the business.
10 Taco Bell
In terms of direct competition, Taco Bell is by far the biggest threat to Chipotle’s bottom line. The company was founded by Glen Bell in the early 60s and bought by Pepsi in 1978. As mentioned, along with Pizza Hut and KFC, Taco Bell forms part of the Yum! Group. Taco Bell serves more than two billion customers a year and has over 7000 locations worldwide.
Taco Bell’s menu offers a number of Mexican-style foods, including burritos, nachos, tacos, and quesadillas.
Unfortunately, the menu had to be reduced quite a bit in recent years due to the unavailability of ingredients. Popular items like the Seven-Layer Burrito, Mexican Pizza, Beefy Fritos Burrito, and Nachos Supreme were dropped.
Resulting in a lot of lost customers…
However, the franchise has recovered well in the last year, and they’ll be looking to recoup their losses, no pun intended. Chipotle and other competitors will have to keep a close eye on this industry giant for sure.
Back in 1998, McDonald’s became an investor in Chipotle. They pumped well over $350 million into the restaurant and helped to promote the Chipotle brand quite a bit. The investment proved well worth it since they ended up getting around $1.5 billion out of the deal.
But it didn’t end there…
The boost that the investment gave Chipotle cannot be understated. But after the arrangement ended in 2006, McDonald’s went back to being an outright Chipotle competitor.
McDonald’s doesn’t sell the same kind of food as Chipotle. However, due to it being the most popular fast food brand in the world, McDonald’s can’t be excluded from the list of primary Chipotle competitors. With over 40,000 locations in more than 100 countries, it’s easy for customers to say, “Let’s just get McD’s instead.”
12 Baja Fresh Mexican Grill/La Sala
Tex-Mex cuisine has become very popular in the US over the years. The name comes from “Texan” and “Mexican” and has its roots in the culinary traditions of the Tejano people of Texas. The Baja brand has managed to take this traditional food into the mainstream with roaring success.
A relatively young Chipotle competitor…
The brand was founded in 1990 and became part of the Canadian MTY Food Group in 2016.
The Baja brand actually consists of two restaurants, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and its sister restaurant, La Salsa. The Baja brand is known for its emphasis on fresh farm ingredients and self-serve salsa bars. And the fact that the brand has two restaurants means it’s got a wider arsenal. Giving it a competitive edge in terms of variety and the quality of its ingredients.
13 Moe’s Southwest Grill
Moe’s is one of the youngest names on this list. It was founded in 2000 and has since grown to over 650 locations with around 13000 employees. Moe’s is known for Mexican and Southwestern-style food.
Some folks might wonder why Moe’s has made the list since it’s nowhere near as big as Chipotle. Or any of the other competitors in terms of size and revenue. The main reason is the so-called ‘Queso War.’
Let me explain…
In 2017, Chipotle announced that it would be introducing queso to its menu. Shortly thereafter, Moe’s issued a public statement warning the public against what they labeled ‘Queso Imposters.’
The rivalry has since gone through varying degrees of intensity. And Moe’s has shown no intention of letting up its onslaught. In more recent years, Chipotle announced that they had developed a brand new queso recipe. And in response to this, Moe’s started offering its customers free queso. Stating that “Free Queso is Better Than Some New Queso Recipe!”
14 Rubio’s Coastal Grill
Rubio’s has been around for almost a decade longer than Chipotle. The company is especially famed for its tasty fish tacos, although they offer a wide range of Mexican and Baja-inspired food.
They have taken a massive hit in recent years, closing a bunch of locations and eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2020. By the end of that year, though, they had restructured and have since been growing from strength to strength. Their tacos are still very popular all across the United States. And they even added plant-based protein to their menu recently. Something that is becoming increasingly popular amongst food-chain target markets.
15 Qdoba Mexican Eats
Operating as a self-owned and managed company for fifteen years prior, Qdoba only became a franchise in 2018. In 2022 it was bought by Butterfly Equity as part of a merger. The franchise currently operates over 750 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Qdoba is known for its quality ingredients and authentic flavors…
The menu consists of traditional foods made according to long-standing recipes. And a few modern additions which have proven very popular. Qdoba is by no means as big as Chipotle, but it has been growing steadily in recent years and has built a loyal fan base over the decades. Moreover, it remains one of the biggest direct competitors to Chipotle.
By now, you should be well informed about the top 15 Chipotle competitors & alternatives. But perhaps you’d like…
More on Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Magic?
If you’d like more insider info on Chipotle’s success, why not take a look at our comprehensive Chipotle Mission and Vision Statement Analysis for 2023?
Want a job with Chipotle Mexican Grill?
No problem! First, you can confirm, How Old Do You Have to be to Work at Chipotle. Then, head over to our Chipotle Mexican Grill Application guide and these Chipotle Interview Questions to help you prepare.
If you need help deciding which position to apply for, we suggest you read up more on the various positions available, including our Cashier Job Description, our Waitress Job Description, and our Shift Leader Job Description, as well as an Assistant Restaurant Manager Job Description and our Restaurant General Manager Job Description.
Ok, back to…
The Top 15 Chipotle Competitors & Alternatives
Chipotle is an international franchise that has become very popular amongst those who love Mexican food. The brand is well-established and has shown an eagerness to expand and improve over its long history.
However, despite this, there are fierce competitors out there. Not only in the U.S. but all over the world, there are those who are constantly looking to grab a piece of Chipotle’s market. No doubt, they will have to continue innovating and expanding if they hope to maintain their edge. Because for many…
Chipotle is still the king of Mexican food!
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