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Chipotle Mexican Grill(CMG-N)

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Should Investors Sell Chipotle Shares and Buy Cava Group Stock Instead?

Motley Fool - Wed Aug 30, 4:10AM CDT

When it comes to the success of restaurants, few have outpaced Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG). Since debuting at $22 per share in 2006, it has risen more than 4,000% as the chain offered healthy fast-food options to virtually all corners of the U.S. and began an expansion into Canada and Europe.

Nonetheless, Cava Group (NYSE: CAVA), which some regard as the Mediterranean food version of Chipotle, debuted in June and reported massive revenue growth in its first quarterly report. Does that mean it is time to abandon Chipotle in favor of the new restaurant stock?

Cava's fiscal Q2 report

Cava Group has given back all of its gains since launching its initial public offering (IPO). However, it received a temporary bump after reporting 27% revenue growth in the second quarter of fiscal 2023 (ended July 9).

The Washington, D.C.-based chain brought in $173 million in revenue in Q2 and added 18 restaurants during the quarter, taking the total to 279. Also, same-restaurant sales grew 18% year over year, attracting more customers despite rising prices.

Additionally, with operating expenses growing at 16%, the company was able to post an operating profit. That led to a net income of $6.5 million, up from a net loss of $8.2 million in the year-ago quarter. Cava also claimed a 26% restaurant-level profit, though this excludes the company's operating costs.

Since Cava said it was done increasing prices, the company forecast same-restaurant sales growth falling to between 13% to 15% in fiscal 2023. It also expects to open between 23 and 28 additional restaurants this year as it moves toward its plan to operate 1,000 locations by 2023.

How Chipotle compares

Indeed, by some critical measures, Chipotle has grown more slowly. In Q2, its comparable restaurant sales increased by just over 7%, while Q2 revenue was up 14% year over year to $2.5 billion.

Nonetheless, in many respects, Chipotle continues to outperform Cava. Chipotle did not publish a restaurant-level profit, but its Q2 net income was $342 million, about 14% of revenue. In comparison, Cava's net income came in at just under 4% of revenue.

Moreover, with the 47 restaurants Chipotle opened in Q2, its total now exceeds 3,250. But despite that much higher restaurant count, Chipotle believes it can grow to 7,000 locations in the U.S. This means that Chipotle will likely open about 4 times as many new restaurants within the United States as Cava.

Additionally, that number does not include potential international locations. Non-U.S. locations make up less than 2% of Chipotle's restaurants, but this is more than Cava, which has not expressed an interest in expanding outside the U.S. Hence, even with a much larger size, Chipotle appears to have more potential to grow than the much smaller Cava Group.

Cava or Chipotle?

Given current conditions, investors should probably stay with Chipotle. Admittedly, Cava gave investors an impressive growth number, and both the potential same-restaurant sales growth and the potential to expand bode well for Cava Group stock.

However, Chipotle continues to drive a higher profit margin. Also, it has shown more potential for expansion despite its massive size. Unless Cava Group can expand its growth potential, Chipotle investors are probably better off staying the course.

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Will Healy has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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