Food marketers are increasingly updating their ingredient lists to appeal to changing consumer sentiment, with companies from Kraft to McDonald's eliminating ingredients perceived as questionable, and now Taco Bell is the latest company to update its menu to respond to consumer demand.
By the end of this year, the company will update its core menu to remove artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, added trans fats and unsustainable palm oil, said Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's chief innovation officer. The move will affect 95% of the chain's menu, but will not impact beverages or co-branded items.
By the end of 2017, Taco Bell will work to remove additional artificial preservatives and additives "wherever possible," according to a statement.
The company is also revising its ingredients listings on its website to make information clearer, said Ms. Matthews, adding that the company enlisted a regulatory consultant to standardize its nutritional information both in the store and online.
Ms. Matthews said the move was in part inspired by the chain's app, which was rolled out in 2014 and offers mobile ordering and payment and the option to customize the food. The app, she said, made customers realize the food was customizable, and even had options like black beans, an ingredient many customers did not know the chain offered.
"We're having more conversations around the fact that we have so many different options. We actually have pretty incredible food, regardless of lifestyle, " said Ms. Matthews, referring to customizations that let people order vegetarian meals, as well as high protein meals from its "Cantina Power" menu, a menu that merged its gourmet-positioned Cantina menu with its Power Protein menu.
Taco Bell will be marketing the changes, though Ms. Matthews declined to provide details on timing or on what the marketing will entail.
Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell, said the company has spent much of its energy promoting attention-grabbing new product innovations, like the Doritos Locos Tacos, the Quesarito and its relatively new breakfast menu, but that there is a "quieter story" happening behind the scenes.
"We're on a similar mission to others that you're seeing in the industry to evolve the everyday food experience," Mr. Niccol said. "One difference, though, is we're going to do it in a way that keeps things affordable," he added, noting that many of Taco Bell's customers expect lower prices.
Earlier, Taco Bell implemented a 15% reduction in sodium across the menu and elimited kids' meals from the U.S., though the latter was a very small percentage of the company's sales anyway. The company in the past also removed MSG and Azodicarbonamide, ingredients that many consumers perceived as unhealthy after some food bloggers and consumer advocates questioned them.
Taco Bell rolled out its app with mobile ordering and payment before many other fast food chains did. The company is also getting ahead of some of its competition by rolling out a loyalty program -- something most traditional chains haven't offered -- within the app later this year.