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How Taco Bell Reshapes Standard Ingredients into Exciting New Offerings

March 30, 2023

At first glance, Taco Bell’s core ingredients may seem ordinary – seasoned meats, lettuce, cheese, sauces, soft and hard shells – but the fast-food giant has perfected the art of reshaping these staples into an array of mouthwatering menu options. Through culinary creativity and a deep understanding of their customers’ cravings, Taco Bell has transformed standard ingredients into exciting new offerings that keep fans coming back for more. 

They have succeeded with this formula by:

  1. Prioritizing creativity with their lean and limited supply chain by constantly inventing in their Innovation Kitchen.
  2. Using limited-time rollouts, Customer-Driven Experimentation, and scarcity to shape their offerings and market timing. 

The Innovation Kitchen: Taco Bell’s Creative Playground

Taco Bell prioritizes creating new and intriguing foods. You know the kind because when you see the latest TB commercial, someone dares you to try it. Or an old fan-favorite special is back for a limited time. One of the ways they focus on this is with their Innovation Kitchen: a place where chefs, food scientists, and nutritionists team up to imagine new ways to use core ingredients to make a dish that fans cannot pass up. 

The Innovation Kitchen is always working on new products, with some items taking years to develop and perfect. According to Heather Mottershaw, Vice President of Pipeline Innovation and Product Development at Taco Bell, “We’re always working on a pipeline of new products. Some products can take two to three years to develop, while others can take a matter of months.” (FoodBeast) To keep the supply chain lean, they often use similar ingredients to the ones they are already distributing in new and resourceful ways when creating a new product. If they use a new component, it will appear in multiple creations, like the Doritos Loco series of Taco Bell offerings. 

But it doesn’t end with creating new dishes; they must test the market and iterate based on customer feedback. Otherwise, they may distribute millions of pounds of food worldwide that no one will want. Both profit and food waste hangs in the balance. 

Customer-Driven Experimentation: Giving Fans What They Crave

Taco Bell’s approach to testing and launching new products is deeply rooted in customer-driven experimentation. The company closely monitors food trends, customer feedback, and market research to identify potential opportunities for new menu items. Before rolling out a new product nationwide, Taco Bell often tests its offerings in select markets to gauge customer response and gather valuable feedback to fine-tune the product.

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According to Taco Bell’s former CEO, Brian Niccol, “We want people to talk about our brand, and we believe one way to get people to talk about our brand is by creating these food experiences that are unique to Taco Bell. We’ve got a lot of fans out there that give us great ideas, and we try to be very receptive to their ideas and then figure out how to turn those ideas into reality.” (Buzzfeed News)

Customer engagement is significant in Taco Bell’s success with new product launches. By involving customers in the product development process and encouraging them to provide feedback, the company can ensure that it creates offerings that resonate with its target audience. 

Furthermore, engaging with customers through social media platforms and other marketing channels allows Taco Bell to generate buzz around new releases and build anticipation for upcoming menu items.

Several limited-time offers and promotions have become runaway hits for Taco Bell, demonstrating the effectiveness of its customer-centric approach. Some notable examples include:

  1. Doritos Locos Tacos: Launched in 2012, the Doritos Locos Tacos featured a taco shell made from Doritos chips. The product became an instant hit, selling millions of units within the first few weeks and eventually becoming one of Taco Bell’s most successful product launches. Note: it has all the same ingredients but with the addition of a Doritos shell, but that novelty alone created a smash hit. 
  2. Nacho Fries: You’ve probably seen the outrageous ads that go with the Nacho Fries. Introduced in 2018, Nacho Fries quickly became a fan favorite. These seasoned fries served with a side of warm nacho cheese sauce, exceeded expectations and were brought back multiple times due to popular demand. Note: they already had the cheese sauce and seasonings on hand. Many stores also make fries because they are combo stores with KFCs, so they were able to make a lot out of a little. 
  3. Quesarito: A combination of a quesadilla and a burrito, the Quesarito was first introduced in 2014. The innovative product gained a loyal following and was later added to the permanent menu. Note: these ingredients were already in every store. Just create a quesadilla before wrapping the burrito, and boom, a Quesarito is born. 

These examples showcase how Taco Bell’s focus on customer-driven experimentation and engagement has led to successful product launches and solidified its position as a fast-food industry innovator.

Taco Bell’s success in the fast-food industry can be attributed to its ability to innovate and adapt, consistently creating new dishes using a relatively small selection of core ingredients. This article explores the magic behind Taco Bell’s menu mastery, highlighting the Innovation Kitchen, customer-driven experimentation, and the company’s penchant for bold flavor combinations. How can you bring some of the Taco Bell philosophy to your business or team?

Prioritize creative innovation like Taco Bell does in their dedicated Innovation Kitchen. Test your ideas with your audience to get rapid feedback. Most importantly, don’t create something from nothing – look at the ingredients you already have to make a fresh and new combination!