Chipotle testing cauliflower rice as consumers look for healthier menu items

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Chipotle is leaning into more plant-based menu items.

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The Newport Beach-based chain is testing cauliflower rice at select restaurants starting Wednesday, the chain announced, a healthy move as more Americans combat "quarantine 15" weight gain as a result of gym closings and stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chipotle's Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice is made with grilled cauliflower, fresh-chopped cilantro, lime juice and salt and will cost an additional $2 more when added to an order, a spokesperson for the restaurant told FOX Business. A taste test will roll out at 55 restaurants in Denver and throughout Wisconsin.

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The rice alternative comes as more consumers seek out better-for-you options when dining out. A report by market research firm NPD Group found a significant amount of restaurant traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviors, such as seeking out menus with fresh, quality ingredients, one of the most important factors when consumers are considering where to dine out.

Chipotle is testing new cauliflower rice. (Chipotle)

And now more than ever consumers may be looking for better-for-you food options, considering readers reported gaining 8 pounds on average while in quarantine, according to statistics from WebMD released in May.

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Chipotle has implemented a number of its own plant-based menu items in the house such as vegan and vegetarian bowls made with ingredients like brown rice, black beans, salsas, fajita veggies and guacamole.

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However, when asked if the restaurant would consider adding plant-based meat such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods to menus, Chipotle's CEO Brian Niccol told Yahoo Finance last year: "We have spoken to those folks and, unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in our 'food with integrity' principals because of the processing, as I understand it, that it takes to make a plant taste like a burger."

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And while the coronavirus has devastated the restaurant industry, causing many to shut down for good from lost revenue, Chipotle saw a surge in its digital orders by a whopping 81 percent to $371.8 million, which accounted for 26 percent of sales for the quarter, the chain reported in April.

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To adapt during the pandemic, Chipotle added contactless pick-up and delivery to bolster its digital sales and teamed up with influencers on social media to share wellness tips to coincide with its healthier "Lifestyle Bowl" menu options. Chipotle also increased employee wages 10 percent.

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