Taco Bell closing perception gap on Chipotle

Oct. 4, 2012

Earlier this week hedge fund investor David Einhorn announced he was shorting Chipotle in part because of perception gains made by Taco Bell. Einhorn has been considered a hedge fund legend by Business Insider for shorting Lehman Brothers before that company's collapse.

YouGov's BrandIndex consumer perception research seems to back up Einhorn's position on Taco Bell's gains in the Mexican food category. Since launching its Cantina Bell menu in July, quality perception levels at Taco Bell have experienced a rapid increase, bringing the brand close to Chipotle's levels where it has remained for the past month.

Taco Bell's Cantina menu was created by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia and includes eight new ingredients such as whole black beans, cilantro rice, 100-percent all-white-meat chicken in a citrus and herb marinade, guacamole made from 100-percent Hass avocado, fire-roasted corn salsa, creamy cilantro dressing, romaine lettuce and pico de gallo.

Taco Bell was so confident about the Cantina Bell launch, it offered a replacement guarantee for dissatisfied customers. Spokesperson Rob Poetsch told the OC Register that the menu has so far exceeded expectations.

The menu's success has inspired the company to expand the line, starting with a new Cantina quesadilla in November and steak dish in January.

Since the July launch, Taco Bell's perception success with Mexican food eaters has allowed it to keep pace and even rise above the top national QSR chains' average.

Taco Bell and the top national QSR sector were measured with YouGov BrandIndex's quality score, which is determined from asking respondents: "Is it high quality or low quality?" The top national QSR sector average includes such brands as Pizza Hut, Arby's, Papa John's, Domino's, KFC, McDonald's, Burger King and Long John Silver's. Results were filtered for adults 18 and older who dined at a Mexican restaurant within the past month.

YouGov BrandIndex measurement scores range from 100 to -100 and are compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.

When the Cantina menu was introduce in early July, Taco Bell's quality score with Mexican food eaters sat at 14, while Chipotle was more than twice that score at 32, and the top national QSR chains sector was several points ahead at 21.

However, on Oct. 1, Taco Bell's quality score was 25, even with the Top National QSR chains sector, while Chipotle is 28. Some analysts have even blamed Chipotle's disappointing quarterly results on Taco Bell's recent innovations.

Read more about menu trends.

Topics: Food & Beverage , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management , Trends / Statistics

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