Next Tuesday is going to be a big week for iPhone lovers -- and fans of queso. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is hosting a media event on Sept. 12 that is all but certain to feature the unveiling of the iPhone 8. Now, Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) is also making that a day to remember, announcing that it will be rolling out queso to all of its restaurants on the same day.
There's no denying that the iPhone 8 is going to be a bar-raising moment. Apple is the world's most valuable consumer-tech company, and the iconic smartphone is its biggest product. However, let's not dismiss the importance of Chipotle rolling out the melty and gooey cheese concoction.
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When it comes to investors, queso may generate a bigger windfall for Chipotle than the iPhone 8 does for Apple. It may seem like a blasphemous thing to say, but let's spell out the reasons why next Tuesday could be a bigger day for Chipotle's prospects than Apple's future.
1. Apple stock has already discounted the iPhone 8
Shares of Apple are on fire this year. The stock hit yet another all-time high late last week, and the shares have risen nearly 40% in 2017. Apple's current fundamentals don't necessarily warrant the new high-water marks. Revenue and earnings are still trending below peak fiscal 2015 levels. The stock is clearly moving on the potential of the next-gen smartphone that will mark the device's 10th anniversary.
Queso, on the other hand, may just be queso. Most of its rivals already have vats of the stuff in their arsenals. Chipotle is trying to set its offering apart by sidestepping additives, but it's not as if the whiff of a new menu item has set Chipotle stock on fire. We're actually seeing the exact opposite happen, as Chipotle stock is trading near the four-year low it hit just two weeks ago. Chipotle shares are trading 18% lower in 2017, having shed more than half of their value since peaking two summers ago.
In short, Apple investors have already bid up a perfect rollout for the iPhone 8. Apple has tacked on nearly $250 billion in market cap this year, all on the notion that customers won't flinch at the new device's stiff price tag and come running for features that are mostly already available on rival Android smartphones.
Chipotle, on the other hand, is trading lower than it was when it first began testing queso in New York City and then hundreds of stores in California and Colorado. A strong iPhone 8 response is already discounted in Apple stock, while Chipotle stock is, well, just discounted.
2. Queso should have more staying power than the iPhone 8
The iPhone 8 is going to have a big impact on Apple for a few months, and then it will be years before it raises the bar again with a next-gen update. We saw sales spike in fiscal 2012 and 2015 -- as we will in 2018 -- only to see growth decelerate to modest single-digit growth in 2013 and 2014, with an outright decline in 2016, and still lag 2015 peak levels in 2017. Analysts see the iPhone 8 helping Apple to a 15% surge in revenue in fiscal 2018 only to post flattish top-line growth the following year.
Queso should have a more lasting impact on Chipotle. The novelty of queso will spike near-term sales, but it's not as if Chipotle will be at the mercy of pushing out annual updates with a major overhaul every three years. Queso will be queso, just as guacamole is guacamole. People won't stop eating queso a year from now, just as they haven't stopped paying a premium for guac.
3. Queso results in incremental sales
There will be an initial push for new iPhone 8 accessories, including the rumored wireless charger and possibly new cases if the form factor is different, but there's no reason to believe than an iPhone 8 user will be buying more premium apps, or subscribing to more Apple services, than the iPhone 7 user today. In terms of services and other digital offerings, it's just another iPhone with niftier features and a higher sticker price.
Queso will be different. Customers will have to pay extra to top their meals with queso -- as little as $1.25, but still an incremental purchase. Queso will also be available in cups for dipping for a bit more than $1.25, something that should also push check averages higher, and likely result in an uptick in chip sales. Queso will dramatically boost Chipotle's tried unit-level sales, and it's happening at the right time. The iPhone 8 may not be a game changer beyond the initial sale.
I'm not suggesting that the party is over for Apple investors. I'm a happy Apple shareholder myself. However, when it comes to what event will impact a bigger percentage stock gain in the coming months, it's hard to argue that this is a battle for Chipotle to lose.
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