Taco Bell loves new menu items. The fast-food chain seems to change up its offerings weekly (although it’s not that often).
During the worst of the covid pandemic, that strategy was put on hold as the Yum Brands (YUM) – Get Yum! Brands, Inc. Report chain switched its focus to getting orders out quickly and had to drop some beloved menu items. Some popular items didn’t make the cut, including Mexican pizza, a Taco Bell original that has a surprisingly devout following.
That began to change in July 2021, when the pandemic’s impact appear to be fading and Taco Bell added Loaded Taco Fries and $1 Flatbread Tacos nationally.
The chain also offered White Hot Ranch Fries in select markets and tested 7-Layer Nacho fries in Orlando, Fla.
Since then Taco Bell has been an endless source of innovation, even offering its take on chicken wings for a week, bringing back Mexican pizza, and introducing a variety of new beverages.
The chain clearly has an open mind when it comes to its menu, as coffee from Cinnabon and the Cherry Sunrise Freeze and Wild Cherry Freeze don’t really fit the classic Mexican restaurant menu,. But Taco Bell is inclined to, as it used to say in its ads, “think outside the bun,” and that makes any innovation at least possible.
The chain’s key rival, Chipotle (CMG) – Get Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Report, has always taken a more measured approach.
When it poached former Taco Bell Chief Executive Brian Niccol as its new CEO, many thought he might take the chain in the same direction as his previous employer. Instead, he has shaken up the Chipotle menu a little but very carefully.
What Menu Changes Has Chipotle Made?
Niccol has used a few limited-time offers to try to get customers excited — a strategy Taco Bell uses liberally. Smoked brisket, for example, launched nationwide in September 2021 after the chain had tested it using what it calls a stage-gate method.
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“In the fall of 2020, Chipotle tested smoked brisket in Cincinnati, Ohio and Sacramento, Calif. The brand leveraged its stage-gate process to test and learn from customer feedback and iterate before deciding on a national launch strategy,” the company said in a news release
“Brisket marks the third new menu item that Chipotle has introduced on a national scale in 2021. Previously, Chipotle launched cilantro-lime cauliflower rice for a limited time in January and debuted the Hand-Crafted Quesadilla, the brand’s first new customizable entrée in 17 years, in March.”
It’s a slow, measured approach designed to produce items that resonate with customers, which can be brought back periodically (a strategy Taco Bell uses with its nacho fries). The chain also used that method for its plant-based chorizo, which appeared as a limited-time offer in January, In addition, Chipotle added pollo asado, a new take on chicken, for a limited time beginning in March.
“Chicken is easily our most popular protein, with many of our most loyal Chipotle customers ordering it the majority of the time,” Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt said. “We’re thrilled to introduce fans to another flavor of chicken that brings a whole new dimension to any Chipotle order and will certainly be a crowd-pleaser.”
Chipotle hasn’t become Taco Bell — it’s not adding fries or really anything outside of what would be considered a traditional Mexican menu — but it has clearly stepped up its limited-time offers and new menu additions.
Taco Bell Tries Again
Beverage innovation has been a core part of the Taco Bell menu experience. The chain has taken Mountain Dew (PEP) – Get PepsiCo, Inc. Report to places nobody ever expected, and it has expanded its offerings to make drinks a core part of its offering.
Now, a member of the Taco Bell Reddit community has spotted a poster touting a new flavor of sparkling iced tea.
The Dragon Paradise Brisk Sparkling Tea has been making selective appearances on Taco Bell menus, according to Mashed.
“We’ve got it in Colorado! We also replaced our pink lemonade with strawberry lemonade,” one commenter said. Additionally, someone else confirmed that the drink has been spotted in Northeastern Louisiana, adding that it’s a really good drink. Others noted that the sparkling tea is now available in some parts of California, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, and Dallas.
The hibiscus iced tea combines several flavors including raspberry, dragonfruit, and blackberry and can be found only at Taco Bell outlets. You can find where it’s being offered on the Brisk Tea website, which also made clear that the flavor is unique to Taco Bell.