DENVER — Executives of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. expect fewer transactions at the burrito chain through July. This news sent shares of the Denver-based company on the New York Stock Exchange plummeting by as much as 11% from the previous day’s close of $304.33, following the earnings release on Feb. 6. Weak traffic in the latest quarter showed “there is still work to be done to restore strong growth and consumer trust,” said M. Steven Ells, chairman and chief executive officer.
Net income in the year ended Dec. 31, 2017, was $176,253,000, equal to $6.19 per share on the common stock, up sharply from $22,938,000, or 78c, in the prior year. Revenue totaled $4,476,412,000, up 15% from $3,904,384,000.
In the fourth quarter, the company earned $43,793,000, or $1.56 per share, an increase over $15,975,000, or 55c, on revenue of $1,110,100,000, up 7% from $1,034,560,000.
Comparable restaurant sales increased 6.4% for the year and 0.9% for the quarter. The increases were driven by higher menu prices, which were partially offset by a decrease in transactions.
“The past couple of years have presented a set of challenges, but I know that the changes we have made are the right ones to help us move toward achieving our full potential,” Mr. Ells said during a Feb. 6 earnings call. “We will continue to focus on our long-term success, and we’ll continue to fight to preserve things that make Chipotle special.”
Mr. Ells, who founded Chipotle Mexican Grill in 1993, is set to step down from his role as c.e.o. and will become executive chairman once a successor is named. A search for his replacement is underway.
“We firmly believe that a new c.e.o. with a passion for driving excellence across every aspect of our business will be another important step in our growth, and I’m optimistic as we look forward to the next 25 years,” Mr. Ells said.
The company continues to struggle to recover from a foodborne illness outbreak in 2015 that included 55 cases of E. coli O26 across 11 states followed by a norovirus outbreak at a Boston-based restaurant that reportedly sickened 80 individuals.
Chipotle’s turnaround efforts have been met with tepid response. Introductions of chorizo and queso, operational improvements and a new loyalty program, among other initiatives, have not been enough to restore customer traffic at the chain to pre-food safety crisis levels.
For 2018, management expects comparable restaurant sales in the low single digits and plans to open 130 to 150 new restaurants, a decline from the projected 195 to 210 new openings in 2017.
“Despite a challenging year, we feel that we have a lot of momentum and energy throughout the company heading into 2018,” said John R. Hartung, chief financial officer. “We’re more committed than ever to continue to perfect our dining experience and to build our sales. The investments that we’re making in our people and to growing our digital and catering business and investing in new innovation will not only help set up the foundation for a successful 2018 but also for the next 25 years.”