Last year wasn't one of the best sales years for Taco Bell. Perhaps it was because of a lawsuit early in the year but regardless of the reason, Taco Bell and their parent company Yum Brands Inc. seek to make this year better. With the hopes of increasing interest in the Mexican style fast-casual dining chain, they are rolling out two new test market initiatives with specific competitor markets in mind.
Last month nearly 800 Taco Bell test restaurants across 12 western U.S. states began trialing new breakfast options. The initial breakfast test market began with four cities and favorable response led to the increased test market to begin making a presence in the $42 billion food on the run breakfast market. New "First Meal" items focus on egg and steak, sausage or bacon stuffed burritos and wraps. Taco Bell has also included recognizable name brands like Cinnabon, Johnsonville, Tropicana, and Seattle's Best in the hopes of boosting interest as well. With a price range from $.99 to $2.79, more people may begin thinking "outside the bun" when it comes to breakfast.
In addition to the expanded test market of the new breakfast line, initial testing is under way for the new menu items that they hope take Taco Bell in the direction of gourmet food. Biggest Loser Chef Lorena Garcia has created the new Cantina Bell burrito, burrito bowl, and soft tacos menu items. Increased focus on nutrient rich ingredients such as seasoned white rice, black beans, and corn salsa appear to take aim at fresh-Mex competitors Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba. Unfortunately, the initial testing market for Cantina Bell is restricted to the Bakersfield, California and Louisville, Kentucky areas for now. If all goes well, you may be seeing the new menu near you by the end of the year.
If neither of these new initiatives is in your area but you love Taco Bell, have no fear because the countdown has started for a new culturally cool concept that just might be.
Next week (March 8 to be exact), the new Doritos Locos Tacos arrive at Taco Bell. The new taco extends the chip-focused menu that started with the Beefy Crunch Burrito (500 calories/ 22 g fat/ 1,060 mg sodium) that includes Flamin' Hot flavored Fritos Corn Chips. There is a lot of industry talk and speculation about this new product that some say brings two favorite "junk foods" together. The updated Taco Supreme will include a shell made from Nacho Cheese Doritos Chips for a crunchy taco with the spicy orange cheese dust fingers as well. Since the test market response has been so good especially in the coveted 18-24 age demographic, plans are already underway to expand to a Doritos Cool Ranch flavored shell. With 123 Doritos flavors worldwide, the possibilities could be endless.
The Bottom Line
Restaurants update themselves all the time and Taco Bell is no different. From a clever Chihuahua that utters "Yo quiero Taco Bell," to encouraging people to "Run for the border" or to "Think outside the bun," the Taco Bell slogan has been continually updated in fun, creative ways over the years. Now after a rough year, Taco Bell is seeking to reinvent again with a shift in concept from "food as fuel" to "food as lifestyle" as suggested by their new slogan "Live Más."
Taco Bell has perfected the "fourth meal" that does big business with the late night crowd. They also offer cost conscience fast-casual options for people eating on the run especially those that put cost over nutritional content. The new Doritos Locos Tacos will pull all these factors together and offer the late night crowd a trendy, cost conscious option. It will be very interesting to see how the more nutrition conscious options fare in the test markets and if they become mainstream or simply get lost in the Doritos hype.
There is currently no official nutrition information released by Taco Bell for the Cantina Bell items to help determine if the "fresher ingredients" translate into a healthier meal option. Certainly if the new menu items offer a great taste and balanced nutrition with a great price point, competitors could find themselves on the run.When stopping by your local Taco Bell to Live Más where they aren't offering the new Cantina Bell options, we recommend sticking with the Fresco menu options whenever possible. The Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco (160 cal/ 4.5 g fat/ 550 mg sodium) or a Fresco Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco (170 calories/ 4 g fat/ 730 mg sodium) are both good options. Regardless of how these new initiatives fare in test markets, it is still best to cook at home as much as possible and to limit fast-casual options to special occasions when health and weight are a focus.
What do you think? Is Taco Bell moving in the right direction with their new initiatives? What would you recommend they do?
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