Fast Food

Could Taco Bell’s SIGNATURES Menu Be a Chipotle Competitor? [OUR LOOK]

According to a recent investor conference, Taco Bell‘s chief executive Greg Creed told investors and analysts that 2011 had been a terrible year for the brand (NRN).

Apparently the lawsuit attacking the chain’s seasoned beef coupled with a relative shortage of new products during the course of the year seemed to truly rattle the fast food giant. The conference wasn’t all negative though — the light at the end of the tunnel being the agressive product lineup they have ready for 2012.

When Creed was asked about rebooting core ingredients, posed as a comparison to Chipotle Mexican Grill’s success as a fast-casual Mexican chain, he was quick to note that Chipotle is less a competitor, but the comparison opens up an opportunity to create similar quality items at a cheaper price.

The first of these higher quality, more economical efforts? Taco Bell Signatures.

The Chef’s Signature lineup was helped developed by Miami-based chef Lorena Garcia. Upgrades include a reformulation of several key ingredients, from the beans, pico de gallo, marinades and seasonings on the chicken and steak.

The lineup, which we hear is slated for debut sometime next year, was quietly waiting for us at a Costa Mesa, CA location near our office.

Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to try what we will naively pose as possible Chipotle-competition. The menu was relatively simple to understand — three main groups of items, all priced out at $2.99, boasting NEW INGREDIENTS, NEW FLAVORS. No word if this will be how the menu actually comes to fruition when brought out nationally (if it ever does), but it works as is.

A group of 3 signature tacos, with your choice of Chicken, Veggie, or Steak (we ordered one of each), was among the first group of items we tried:

All three were delicious. The meats were great, the seasoning was quality, and the pico de gallo with charred corn was…in the words of my man Jason Segel from the 2009 film I Love You, Man, a revalation.

One of the hidden gems of the taco (which will also prove to ring true in both the burrito and salad bowl) is the quality of the beans. The addition of black beans works exceptionally well with all the tacos, particularly the Veggie option, which relies heavily on it without the use of Chicken or Steak as a main protein.

Pictured above is Rudy getting throat-deep in the Steak burrito offering. As you can see, the size is respectable, and the flavors are on par with the quality of the tacos. The burrito isn’t the size of a Chipotle burrito, but for the price ($2.99), it’s definitely worth every penny.

Lastly, we ordered up their Signature Bowl (also $2.99), an accumulation of all the ingredients, alongside a bed of seasoned rice, and the dollop of guacamole was a great touch. Here’s a look after I stirred it all up:

So the question remains, will this give Chipotle a run for its money?
It very well could, but if anything, it might just be the crucial part of a portfolio of items that Taco Bell needs to bounce back in 2012.
Realistically, it will take far more than a few new “fresh ingredients” for Taco Bell to ever shake the stigma of being a fast food giant and undergo a visage of a “fast casual” brand like Chipotle, but that doesn’t seem to be their direct aim.
Along with the rollout of Taco Bell Breakfast over the next year, coupled with some promising off-the-wall menu additions, they might just have it in them to turn things around.
For fans of Taco Bell, what would you like to see changed, added or removed from their menu? Do you think they should become more of a Chipotle, or are they fine as is?
Speak on it!

By Elie Ayrouth

Elie is a product of Orange County, CA. In early 2012, his dentist diagnosed him with 8 different cavities, three of which on the same tooth, as a result of his 23-year Sour Patch Kid addiction.

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