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Chipotle (CMG) Stock Slips on New Health Study

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Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill CMG slipped over 3% in late afternoon trading Thursday following the release of a new study that shows the fast casual chain may not be the healthier food option that many of its customers think it is.

According to a new report from the University of South Carolina, fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread PNRA serve entrees that could average up to 35% more calories than traditional fast-food competitors like McDonald’s MCD or Yum! Brands’ (YUM - Free Report) Taco Bell.

34 fast-food and 28 fast-casual restaurants were included in the study, and calorie count per entrée was looked at. Fast-casual entrees had, on average, 760 calories per dish, which was significantly higher than the 561 calories found in the average fast-food entrée.

In the case of Chipotle, the company’s optional add-ons like guacamole and sour cream can quickly turn up the calorie count, and fast-casual chains in general use more nutrient-rich ingredients that also tend to be higher in calories.

To some consumers, efforts from fast-casual chains like Chipotle to use more natural and fresh ingredients are the true health-conscious appeal. However, this new study is yet another reminded that calorie-conscious eaters should consider the caloric content of each meal on an individual basis, regardless of what type of restaurant the food comes from.

Also on Thursday was the release of the Harris Poll’s annual “Restaurant Brands of the Year,” which awards titles for different cuisines based on consumer sentiment. After winning the award for best fast-casual Mexican chain three years in a row, Chipotle was knocked off by a much smaller competitor, Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Owned by the same company that operates Aunties Anne’s and Cinnabon, Moe’s has less than half of the total number of restaurants as Chipotle. The former champion actually came in at fourth this year, falling behind Taco Bell, Baja Fresh, and Jack in the Box’s JACK Qdoba brand.

Chipotle is clearly still reeling from the effects of its food safety issues and has not yet fully recovered from the E. Coli and norovirus outbreaks. More troublesome news about the health benefits, or lack thereof, of its food is definitely not what Chipotle needs right now.

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