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Chipotle is upgrading its queso -- again

After years of tinkering, Chipotle is confident it's finally found the right queso recipe.The chain first added the melted cheese dip to the menu in 2...

Posted: Feb 26, 2020 6:07 AM

After years of tinkering, Chipotle is confident it's finally found the right queso recipe.

The chain first added the melted cheese dip to the menu in 2017. But many customers didn't like it, complaining that the texture was "gritty." A few months later, Chipotle released a tweaked version.

Now, it's launching a whole new recipe. Queso blanco, which is white instead of yellow, is made with Monterey Jack and white cheddar cheeses, as well as serrano, poblano and chipotle peppers. Starting Thursday, queso blanco will replace the yellow queso that is currently available at all Chipotle locations.

It's important for Chipotle to get queso right. When the fast casual chain first launched the product, it was a big part of its turnaround efforts. Now, the company's business is in good shape. Another successful side dish can help improve sales even more and lure queso-lovers into restaurants.

"It's been a long journey for us," Chris Brandt, Chipotle's chief marketing officer, told CNN Business. "We're excited to debut it for everybody."

The problem with queso

Chipotle stakes its reputation on using fresh, healthy ingredients. So when it launched queso back in 2017, it did so with aged cheddar cheese. But using cheddar actually contributed to the gritty consistency, explained Brandt.

"Processed cheese melts really easily," he told CNN Business. "Doing queso with no processed ingredients is really, really hard."

To make creamy queso, Chipotle went back to the drawing board. About two years ago, it started experimenting with new recipes. "We went through a lot of iterations with the product itself, and tried different colors of queso and different blends of queso," Brandt said. The team found that a blend of cheeses — rather than using one single type of cheese — helped improve the dip's texture.

To see how customers felt about queso blanco, Chipotle tested the product in 52 locations Detroit, Dallas and San Diego last year. At those restaurants, queso blanco replaced the earlier version, and sales of the menu item went up "by a pretty good margin," Brandt said. He added that customer satisfaction was higher with the new version.

Why Chipotle didn't give up

Chipotle's Queso flop was costly. Soon after the original version launched, Goldman Sachs criticized the product and Chipotle's stock dipped.

But Chipotle stuck with the product because side dishes help boost sales. Nearly half of Chipotle orders include guacamole, Brandt said. "If queso went to the level of guacamole, we'll be dancing in the street," he said.

Plus, side orders let people customize their orders — something that helps set Chipotle apart from other chains.

In order to make sure that people are well aware of the improved product, Chipotle is planning a marketing push that includes television commercials, digital and social promotion. And the fact that this version is white should also help people from confusing it with the earlier version, Brandt noted.

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