In the foodservice industry, the media likes to shine a light on a segment or chain that is doing quite well – a “foodservice darling,” if you will. For example, Chick-fil-A is collecting all the accolades for bringing quick service chicken to a whole other level, while Chipotle offers “food with integrity” and social responsibility. Taco Bell isn’t necessarily a “foodservice darling,” per se. Instead, they are a buzz-worthy, off-beat brand that willingly embraces their reputation and uses it to their advantage – especially among Millennials – in order to stand out against their competitors.

Taco Bell found initial success from figuring out their niche within quick service – specifically through their menu offerings. In 2012, they released two new items: the Cantina Bell menu, as well as the Doritos® Locos Taco. While the Cantina Bell menu was intended to make waves versus fast casual, the Doritos® Locos Taco was the launch that stole the spotlight. A seemingly simple, yet risky, endeavor using Doritos’® Nacho Cheese seasonings on a hard shell taco elevated the brand to notoriety, and unknowingly started the “stunt food” craze. Since then, Taco Bell has released a Cool Ranch and Fiery Doritos® Locos Taco to the legion of fans they have cultivated since the initial launch.

Taco Bell Maximizes Use of Social Media to Connect with Younger Consumers

Speaking of fans, Taco Bell has stood out among other restaurant brands through their engagement on social media. Huffington Post, Policy Mic, and Mashable have all praised Taco Bell for their social media presence – a medium that is essential to attract the key 18-24-year-old demo, but can often fall on deaf ears if not done well. What sets them apart from all the other mindless brand chatter is their witty and effective interaction that is perceived as more human than targeted marketing.

Taco Bell’s Instagram account posts high-quality, scenic pictures of their food; their Twitter account has genuine conversations with celebrities, as well as their everyday customers; and they are one of the few brands that have successfully used Snapchat, an app for quick pictures and videos, for advertising. For Taco Bell, their presence on social media is focused on their core consumer – 18-24 year olds. Rather than trying to be a restaurant brand for everyone, they focus on their loyal fans and reward them through public retweets on Twitter, hilarious Snapchats, and even a Taco Bell taco box costume.

Taco Bell proves that sometimes it is better march to one’s own drummer. They have embraced what their brand represents to their customers and have succeeded in providing them with a food experience that is unique in itself; and they will not be apologizing for it. The future looks bright for the brand, as they venture into unchartered territory like breakfast, fast casual tacos, and bottled Baja Blast:

• Taco Bell is further expanding their Doritos® Locos Taco menu, by adding chicken to the selection. During the MTV Movie Awards in March, Taco Bell announced it would offer the new Spicy Chicken Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco for a limited time, beginning on May 8th. The addition of chicken to the tacos is a strategic move to possibly expand to more fillings and toppings in the infamous taco line – and of course, the debut of the new taco on MTV is another way the brand is speaking to core customers (LA Times).
• Mountain Dew Baja Blast fans can rejoice – Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell) has inked a deal with PepsiCo to begin offering the beverage, which is currently only offered at the restaurant, in bottles and cans in retail locations. Taco Bell hopes that the new bottled products will increase awareness of the beverage at their restaurants. The launch is for a limited time (as of now) and will begin in May 5th (Bloomberg Businessweek).
• Hoping to find success in other segments, Taco Bell announced it is testing a fast casual taco concept in Huntington Beach, Calif., called US Taco Co. and Urban Taproom. This new venture hopes to attract the demographics that are not Taco Bell users. The taco offerings use “American inspired” recipes, like the “Brotherly Love,” which includes carne asada, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso and cotija cheese, and fresh cilantro. The test restaurant will also serve steak-cut papas fritas, and adult milkshakes spiked with beer. This may prove to be a great venture for Taco Bell, as the new concept is unique in its own right and hits on a number of consumer desires from fast casual: quality flavors, availability of adult beverages, and a distinctive brand entity and space (Nation’s Restaurant News).

For more foodservice insight from Mintel, check out these new reports: LSR: Ethnic Concepts – US – 2014 and Technology in Restaurants – US – 2014.

Katrina Fajardo joined Mintel’s Foodservice reports team with a background that includes data analysis, presentations to restaurant operators and food manufacturers, and consumer behavior tracking. She is now involved in researching and writing reports that cover the broad, evolving world of Foodservice, including commercial, non-commercial, and menu exploration. Her focus is to create insightful and actionable reports that deliver valuable takeaways for clients.

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