Taco Bell to Test 'Power Protein' Menu to Lure Health-Conscious

Also Testing Zero-Calorie Beverages

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Taco Bell will be testing a "Power Protein" menu this summer, a move that signals the chain's efforts to offer healthier fare.

A Taco Bell bowl.
A Taco Bell bowl.

The chain July 25 will be testing a small menu in locations in Dayton, Ohio, that includes four items -- a chicken burrito, steak burrito, chicken bowl and steak bowl -- that offer more than 20 grams of protein and contain fewer than 450 calories.

The chain is also testing zero-calories beverages such as SoBe Lifewater Yumberry Pomegranate and Brisk No Calorie Peach Iced Green Tea. (Both brands are owned by PepsiCo.)

The Power Protein burrito comes with a double portion of chicken or steak, plus romaine lettuce, roasted-corn-and-pepper salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and reduced fat sour cream. The chicken burrito is $3.59 and the steak burrito is $3.99. The Power Protein Bowl has similar ingredients, minus a tortilla and plus black beans. Chicken is $4.79 and steak is $5.19

Seeking millennials
Millennials are seeking items that have more protein and less fat, said CEO Greg Creed during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, adding that the new items are a step to become a better and more relevant Taco Bell to that generation, its core demographic.

The items will be branded on the menu boards as Power Protein items, and will not be part of the upscale and pricier Cantina menu items, said Mr. Creed. He added that assuming the test goes well, the Power Protein menu is expected to be on the 2014 national calendar, although he did not provide specific dates.

The news comes two months after Taco Bell announced it would offer more nutritious menu items. In April, Mr. Creed said that Taco Bell would be overhauling some of its menu to meet more rigid nutritional standards. At the time, he was vague on specifics and which products would be overhauled, saying instead that the chain would take into consideration reductions in calories, fat and sodium, aiming to have 20% of combo meals meet one-third of the U.S. daily recommended guidelines, assuming that most people eat three meals per day. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Taco Bell would pledge to have 20% of its meal deals have no more than one-third of that total calorie count, or an estimated 666 calories.

Mr. Creed said that some items currently do not meet these guidelines, but as the company develops new products, they'll be developed against the guidelines. "We still have to offer choice ... what we're really trying to do...is to offer more choices than we had before" making sure they still have great taste and meet guidelines," he said. "The consciousness in this organization [around nutrition] has been raised exponentially."

Marketing changes
In mid-May, Taco Bell announced that then-chief marketing and innovation officer Brian Niccol was promoted to president, while Chris Brandt, a senior marketing exec at Taco Bell, would be named chief marketing officer.

On the marketing front, Taco Bell expanded its agency roster, bringing in Interpublic's Deutsch, Los Angeles, sibling agency of its creative shop, DraftFCB. Deutsch's first spot was a 60-second Super Bowl ad earlier this year, and the agency has subsequently been winning additional projects ever since

Taco Bell in recent months has announced a number of changes this year, including a test for a new dollar menu called $1 Cravings. The company in early May said that the menu is in test in two markets and includes 12 items such as a Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla, Churro and Triple Layer Nachos, all priced at a dollar.

The chain's current value menu, dubbed "Why Pay More," includes items originally priced at 79 cents, 89 cents and 99 cents, though those prices have largely increased to well north of a dollar over time. There are also $2 meal deals on the "Why Pay More" menu. The chain initially announced the $1 Craving test in January, noting then that if the $1 Cravings menu goes national, it would replace the "Why Pay More" menu.

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