Taco Bell churns out new items through its Insights Lab, a menu-idea incubator comprised of members of the Consumers Insights and Business Insights teams. The team congregates in a room, dubbed the Innovation Forum, at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters. It’s set up with rows of stadium seating and a long counter lined with stools up front.
In addition to just coming up with new ideas, “Our product development team has looked for ways to remove some of the time-consuming processes in menu development,” says Melissa Friebe, vice president of the Insights Lab. “For example, with line extensions like the Triple Double Crunchwrap, we found we needed less consumer testing because our consumers are already familiar with the product.”
Other operators are looking outside their own test kitchens and stores, doing field research to generate menu ideas. Six times a year, members of the Insiders Group at Tampa, Fla.-based Checkers and Rally’s restaurants do road trips to various cities to visit other concepts, both quick service and full service, says Ryan Joy, senior director of research and development. Joy calls the trips “ideation dates,” he says.
“We will all fly to say, Chicago—the culinary staff, the brand team, someone from the advertising group, and I may reach out to our vendor partners and their culinary staff to meet us there,” Joy says. “We will come up with a thousand ideas, but a voting process will bring us down to about 30.”
Back in Tampa, the ideas head into the Checkers and Rally’s test kitchen for further development and refinement, where they will be narrowed to about eight ideas to be vetted via consumer surveys and focus groups. From there, three to five ideas head to in-store testing.
“When we come up with an idea, we have to make sure it’s doable in the restaurants,” says Ryan. The more input from different teams throughout the process of pitching and vetting potential dishes, the easier it is to flush out potential problems with menu items up front, he says.
Check out the Breakout Flavors package