Chipotle taps Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as new top executive

Chipotle Restaurant AP FBN

Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) on Tuesday tapped Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as its next chief executive as the struggling fast casual chain attempts to reverse its recent slump.

Niccol, 43, is set to assume the role on March 5, the company said in a press release. He will replace Chipotle co-founder and executive chairman Steve Ells, who stepped down as CEO last year as the chain faced pressure related to food safety and declining foot traffic.

"Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business,” Ells said in a statement. His expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle.”

Chipotle shares rose more than 10% in after-hours trading after Niccol’s hiring was announced.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
CMG CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL INC. 3,273.41 +6.80 +0.21%
YUM YUM! BRANDS INC. 136.79 -1.22 -0.88%

After years of growth, Chipotle has struggled since 2015, when repeated food safety scares at its restaurants shook consumer confidence in the brand and forced some locations to shutter temporarily. Concern was reignited last July after customers became sick after eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Sterling, Va.

Recent efforts to boost sales, including the launch of such menu items as an organic queso dip and chorizo as well as a rewards program have largely failed to attract new customers.

Chipotle shares are down more than 40% year-over-year and plunged again earlier this month after a price hike provided only a slight boost to quarterly revenue.

Niccol, who spearheaded Taco Bell’s turnaround in recent years for Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM), will be tasked with engineering a similar renaissance at Chipotle.

"At Chipotle's core is delicious food, which I will look to pair up with consistently great customer experiences,” Niccol said in a press release. “I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle's cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications. This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees."

This story has been updated.