How does Chipotle foot traffic compare to Taco Bell in the U.S.? While Taco Bell is the dominant national brand, Chipotle is disrupting consumer visitation patterns in urban centers across the U.S., and pushing hard into smaller markets in 2023.
Over the last couple years, Taco Bell has ~3.5x more foot traffic on average than Chipotle nationwide, but Taco Bell is also a much older brand with a lot more locations. Chipotle is expanding aggressively, so the historical gap in total visitation is somewhat deceiving.
Look deeper into the numbers and you’ll see things get much closer and even start to skew in favor of Chipotle in urban centers where the two brands compete head to head. This is true all across the map, in all the big states, and in many of America’s largest cities.
Coupled with its plans to push into the smaller markets with up to another 4,000 locations nationwide, Chipotle is positioned for a significant gain in total 2023 visitation vs Taco Bell, and the opportunity to capture and control foot traffic in hundreds of smaller markets across the country.
To find out where things stand in Q1 of 2023, we looked at visitation data from Q1 of 2021 and 2022, with an eye towards gleaning competitive intelligence insights for each brand. Here’s some of what we found.
If historical trends hold, both Chipotle and Taco Bell can expect an increase in traffic through the first part of Q1, with visitation peaking around the end of February, before falling away in March and through the end of the quarter, eventually finding positive annual gains again in the first half of Q2.
Chipotle, though, will experience higher total gains and lower total losses than Taco Bell as the quarter progresses. Chipotle will also spend less time in negative growth territory. So, while Taco Bell is by far the total foot traffic leader, Chipotle will continue to gain ground on them in Q1 and throughout 2023.
Take a look at some of the areas where Chipotle is strongest, and Taco Bell is most vulnerable, and the more upscale brand’s growth trajectory is clear.
Don’t let a quick look at the big states fool you. Chipotle’s charge is having an impact in key markets.
In California, the state win goes to Taco Bell by a margin of about 3 visits to every one visit for Chipotle, but that drops to ~2:1 in the massive Los Angeles market, and Chipotle wins outright (4:1) in San Francisco. Read that as: Chipotle’s ideal consumer demographic looks like someone who might live and/or work in downtown SFO. A similar profile will come up as we explore the map further.
In Texas, where Taco Bell wins ~3:1 overall, Chipotle breaks through to compete neck and neck in Collins County, just north of Dallas, and punch above its weight in the city itself. Chipotle's relative overperformance in more cosmopolitan markets vs the statewide trend is again clear here, with the brand doing better than average in both Forth Worth and Austin.
In Florida, where Taco Bell matches the national average with a ~3:1 win in total foot traffic, Chipotle also overperforms in more urban markets. Miami and Orlando are both competitive with Chipotle gaining over the previous two years. Palm Beach enters 2023 a virtual dead heat; again, Chipotle is growing faster here.
In New York state, where Taco Bell wins overall by ~2:1, Chipotle wins the city proper by ~3:1. Chipotle also lays claim to Kings and Queens, giving the more upscale brand another urban metropolis win. Essentially, the farther you go away from the city (and most of the people), the greater Taco Bell’s county-level dominance becomes.
In Illinois, where Taco Bell wins by a little less than ~2:1, Chipotle nonetheless wins the dominant Chicago and Cook County market outright. Chipotle also wins connected DuPage County with about 53% of the total foot traffic. Another Chicago-area county, Kane, is a dead heat between the two brands, with Chipotle ascending.
All this success in major city centers of big states is not coincidental. Being a little more cosmopolitan than the competition is Chipotle’s brand. This begs the question: How successful will Chipotle’s push into smaller, less urban areas be?
Many of Chipotle’s additional 4,000 locations are planned for smaller cities; think in the range of less than 50,000 people. Is this market size substantial enough for Chipotle to draw from, or is there going to be a lack of that ideal urban consumer profile living in these places to make the more upscale brand option successful?
One interesting influence on this may be the movement of people away from urban centers, towards smaller cities and towns, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Do the people that lived on Chipotle in once booming downtown SFO or NYC, still crave it now that they’ve moved the next county over, or maybe back home to small town America? How will that influence others where they live and work now?
Another consideration is the ongoing effect of Work from Home. By the same token that Covid drove people from city centers, WFH is keeping them closer to home. We don’t all choose to live in the city, but we may wish to retain some of the consumer options we once found there, given our druthers.
Chipotle’s aggressive expansion plans certainly indicated the brand’s confidence in its ability to penetrate smaller markets, but Taco Bell will not yield territory easily, and the consumer will ultimately vote with their feet.