Taco Bell hopes to bring more options to value menu competition

Taco Bell today provided insight on how it plans to win the increasingly competitive QSR value game.

A big part of those plans hinges on a new $1 Cravings Menu currently in test in two markets (Sacramento, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo.). During a conference call this afternoon, Brian Niccol, chief marketing and innovation officer, and Chris Brandt, vice president of brand marketing, wouldn't go so far to guarantee its broader rollout, but expressed confidence in its viability.

The $1 Cravings Menu was conceptualized about 18 months ago. If it goes national, it will replace the brand's current "Why Pay More" menu, which features items ranging in prices, including most slightly over $1.

The impetus behind the creation of the $1 Cravings Menu is to "offer a true price value for consumers with 12 cravable choices." Those 12 items are expected to be changed up often, to cater to evolving consumer demands. Current items include shredded chicken mini quesadilla, churro, triple layer nachos, beefy nacho loaded grill and more.

The menu will also be sold as advertised — all items for $1.

"We are redefining value on the low end. Consumers want things for $1 and frankly some need things for $1. And consumers need change, their tastes evolve," Brandt said.

Taco Bell created the menu largely based on consumer feedback. The average guest makes a trip to a Taco Bell every 11 days and the brand generates a lot of feedback from its 37 million social media followers. Brandt said many consumers were frustrated by value menus at other chains that were slightly more than $1. Also, many value menus maintain the same items year-round.

"The insight we got was there are things on value menus consumers didn't really want. Our goal at that low price is to give people things they want. We have beefy, cheesy, spicy, etc., items that meet their cravings," Brandt said. "If we do that, then we win on the low price side of the menu. What people really want is what makes people come to Taco Bell day in and day out."

Niccol added that the value menu segment represents about 20 percent of consumers. And, although some prices on the "Why Pay More" menu started at 79 cents and have since gone up because of macroeconomic changes, Niccol said the brand will stay true to the dollar selling point with the new menu.

"We're going to give (consumers) the best $1 solution," he added. "We're going to launch and leverage this. If costs start to move to a place where we have to re-innovate to deliver a $1 solution, we'll do that. There is a true need and demand for a $1 solution."

"There is no finish line for this. It's iterative. You have to keep innovating or your consumers won't keep coming back," Brandt added.

Other announcements

Also this week, the company announced it will be bringing back its popular Beefy Crunch Burrito. Beginning on May 23, guests can order the item, which includes Flamin' Hot Fritos, for 99 cents.

In an unusual move, Taco Bell announced the item's return via Snapchat, a platform that allows people to talk in real-time via their iOS or Android.

Also, in test right now is a grilled stuffed nacho. Niccol said the offering is very true to the brand's signature products and gives nachos better portability.

Taco Bell is also planning to continue its Happy Hour through the summer. The program began in March and features three varieties of its Loaded Grillers for $1, as well as any regular sized beverage for $1 from 2 to 5 p.m. That includes the higher end beverages such as its Freeze line.

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