It’s not often you see the words Taco Bell and “gourmet” or “upscale” in the same sentence. The taco and burrito chain is more likely to be associated with words like “cheap” and “Fourth Meal” as well as its own made up words like “gordito.”
Nevertheless, the 5,600-unit “Live Mas” chain has announced that it will be branching out in a new, more upscale menu direction starting in July.
Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia has created a number of new menu items that Taco Bell executive Brian Niccol has described as “gourmet Mexican.” The new Cantina Bell Menu choices will feature such ingredients as cilantro rice, black beans, citrus- and herb-marinated chicken, and cilantro dressing (as seen in this upcoming Taco Bell ad, shown left).
Among the new selections developed by Chef Garcia are a Cantina Burrito and a Cantina Burrito Bowl, which will make their debut on the menu in early July. The new dishes will be a bit higher in price than what Taco Bell fans are accustomed to, ticketed at just under $5.
The new items were tested for months in Louisville, Ky., and Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif. The results included improved lunch and dinner business along with an uptick in women customers, according to Niccol.
Meanwhile, Garcia’s celebrity image will be enhanced this summer by her appearance on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” show. She’s also been seen on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and is a frequent guest on the “Today Show.”
With the intro of these new menu creations Taco Bell appears to be creeping into the territory of casual dining brands such as Qdoba Mexican Grill and Chipotle Mexican Grill, two major chains known for using premium quality ingredients.
High school and college students and other hard core Taco Bell fans needn’t worry, though. Basic, inexpensive burritos, chalupas and tacos—including the popular new Doritos Locos taco—won’t be going away anytime soon…or ever, probably.
But you can look for the chain to continue to expand and explore. Earlier this year, Taco Bell began offering breakfast at nearly 800 restaurants mostly in the Western U.S. The chain hopes to go nationwide with its breakfast burritos, sausage and egg wraps and hash browns by the end of 2014, Niccol said.
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