With avocados being sold at a premium, two rival Mexican fast-food chains are hoping to distract customers with the introduction of “gourmet” nacho cheese dips.
In August, Chipotle Mexican Grill began testing a spicy “queso” (cheese) dip in select restaurants, including several locations in Southern California. Stores in Orange County are selling the cheese sauce plus chips for $3.55. The container is the same size as a to-go cup for salsa or dressing — about 2 ounces. The thick queso, made with a variety of peppers, is also available as an add-on to any burrito or bowl for an upcharge.
On Thursday, Aug. 31, Lake Forest-based Del Taco introduced their own version, Queso Blanco, at a much lower cost. An order of chips and cheese sauce, made with jalapeños and heavy cream, cost $1.29.
Del Taco says it is dumping its old “cheese pump” orange-hued cheese for its premium blanco version.
The so-called “white cheese” dip is being sold at more than 550 restaurants nationwide, though it was available for purchase Wednesday at a local restaurant in Orange. The white sauce, served in a 2-ounce container, has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
Chief Marketing Officer Barry Westrum said the new cheese sauce is part of the chain’s strategy to crank out “quality and flavorful menu items at an unbeatable value.”
Over the last few years, Del Taco’s test kitchen has been busy creating a wide-range of meals to appeal to diners with varying budgets. Epic burritos, premium salads and the recently launched Platos meals are items developed to lure “fast casual” eaters. It’s also revamped its Buck and Under menu at breakfast to beef up morning sales.
The menu variety has been good for business. For the second quarter, Del Taco’s system-wide same-store sales grew 7.1 percent. That’s the 15th consecutive quarter of gains, the company said.
Though it is too soon for fast food lovers to compare the rival cheese dips, some Chipotle customers have already weighed in on the chain’s new sauce.
And, the reviews were not great.
Many have complained the price is too expensive, especially for a powdery and “grainy” cheese sauce. At a Chipotle in Orange, a side of queso (no chips) is $2.10. A large order of chips and queso is $5.35. By comparison, Del Taco’s nacho cheese is available as an add-on for 50 cents. A side order (no chips) is $1.
Making matters worse for Chipotle, some Register readers have insisted that Chipotle has downgraded its chips. (This reporter agrees.)
“They just don’t seem to be as crispy and that lime salt seems to be missing,” one reader posted on the Fast Food Maven Facebook page.
Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold has told the Register twice over the past year that the company has not altered its chip recipe.
“No. No change. Our chips are made in our restaurants every day (and still seasoned with fresh lime juice and salt). While we try to keep our recipes and the taste of our food as consistent as we can, because they are made in each restaurant every day, there can be slight variances from time to time,” he said.
Readers are not buying it. “We know you changed something about your chips a while back…and it’s not for the better.”
Chipotle appears to have left the door open for Del Taco to swoop in and win queso lovers on value. The Denver-based chain cannot afford to lose customers. Since 2015, the chain has struggled to regain its footing after multiple food scares.
Talk to us: If you try both, write in and let us know what you think. Email [email protected]