Taco Bell is about to go head to head with more upscale fast-casual chains like Chipotle, launching its Cantina Bell menu nationally on July 5 with marketing that will feature chef Lorena Garcia, who created the menu.
The chain began testing the menu in January in Louisville, Ky., and Bakersfield, Calif., positioning it as more upscale and fresh, with ingredients such as black beans, "fire-roasted" corn salsa, cilantro rice, pico de gallo and citrus- and herb-marinated chicken that many consumers have come to associate with Chipotle. The Taco Bell prices, however, are lower. The menu will include a Cantina Burrito Bowl and the Cantina Burrito -- both with veggie, steak or chicken options -- priced under $5; similar items at Chipotle average around $8. The new menu will also include new sides, including chips and guacamole and black beans and rice, each for $1.49.
In marketing, Taco Bell will heavily feature Ms. Garcia, a Miami chef who was featured on "America's Next Great Restaurant (and appeared alongside Chipotle founder Steve Ells in the show), and who will appear on the new season of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" starting July 25. Brian Niccol, Taco Bell's chief marketing and innovation officer said in a statement: "She created a high-quality, value-driven lineup of new offerings and new ingredients that would create a broader array of tastes and flavors our consumers are seeking. "According to the company, Ms. Garcia also influenced the menu by advocating "more ingredients per item and smaller amounts, while improving the build and presentation of the food."
The TV and digital campaign, created by DraftFCB's Orange County office, will also launch July 5, a key focus of which will be Ms. Garcia and her involvement with Taco Bell in developing the new menu items. Expect the campaign to feature shots of Ms. Garcia preparing her "signature" recipes. The TV commercials will be similar to the test -market spot (above), but may have slight variations. The ads will also touch on Taco Bell's "guarantee" -- if "consumers don't love it, Taco Bell will replace it," according to the statement.
The Cantina Bell menu is an effort to broaden the appeal of Taco Bell and grab more female customers. During a first-quarter earnings call, parent company Yum Chairman-CEO David Novak said that "this is going to extend the breadth of appeal of the brand," and will "make us more mainstream with male and female target audiences."
Taco Bell and parent Yum Brand's other chains KFC and Pizza Hut had been struggling in the U.S. recently, with U.S. 2011 sales down 1% at Yum and 2% at Taco Bell. Taco Bell had a rough 2011, and blamed much of its woes on a lawsuit that was filed in early 2011 that questioned the integrity of the ground beef the chain used; the lawsuit was withdrawna few months later.
But the company appears to be in the beginnings of a turnaround, with sales up 6% in the U.S. at Taco Bell and Yum same-store sales up 5% in the U.S. in the first quarter. At the time, Mr. Novak credited the launch of the Doritos Locos Taco, which launched March 8, and the West Coast introduction of its breakfast menu in January as significant contributors to the bump in sales. It also launched a new campaign in February with the tagline "Live mas."
During the first-quarter-earnings call, Mr. Novak implied that more product innovation could be on the way. The chain previously confirmed that a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco was on tap for later this year. Mr. Novak said that with the "reinvention of the taco with Frito Lay, we believe we're at the beginning."