I’ve always had a guilty, secret thing for Taco Bell … and now it is following me to work.
In the past week, I came across two completely unexpected news items about Taco Bell and, in the process, gained a newfound respect for a company that manages to be relentlessly innovative yet never gets pulled off-brand.
The first “Aha moment” came when a coworker forwarded an article touting Taco Bell as the healthiest of fast food franchises. Not only has the chain switched to cage-free eggs, it has dramatically reduced salt and is phasing out artificial ingredients and trans fats. Taco Bell plans to go even further, by eliminating XL sodas, cutting an additional 10% of sodium across the board and removing some antibiotics from its chicken in 2017.
Recognizing an increased demand for healthy food, Taco Bell has introduced customizable lower-calorie, high-protein and vegetarian/vegan menus, all geared primarily to online and mobile ordering. A customizable nutrition calculator is available too, empowering customers with a wealth of information and options they never had before.
However, while it was quietly making these health-conscious upgrades, Taco Bell also continued creating seriously bad-ass (and heavily promoted) splurge items like the Doritos Locos Taco or the muy-cheesy Quesalupa. Live Mas, indeed.
Significantly, the brand’s position didn’t change a lick. “Touting ourselves as a health halo (would be) not authentic and not real,” says Taco Bell spokesman Alec Bell.
As the company has rightly pointed out, their new customization options can also be used to enhance orders with extra cheese, sauce or meat, as well as to cut calories or go vegan. Take your empowerment in any direction you want, folks.
The second revelatory news item is even more recent. Last month, Taco Bell announced it would be opening 300-350 “cantina-style” facilities that serve alcohol – but don’t have a drive through. Seriously. All will feature open kitchens, digital menu boards and local artwork. You can guess the target.
“One of the cool things happening in America right now is the revitalization of urban areas,” said Taco Bell CEO Mike Grams. “We’re seeing millennials moving into urban areas.”
So, will images of the upscale cantinas work their way into the company’s ad campaigns? Perhaps, but I’ll bet my burrito that Taco Bell will stay true to its core brand identity and continue to produce ads showing wildly enticing, wildly naughty “4th Meals” being consumed in classic Taco Bell surroundings.
It’s a recipe that’s hard to argue with.