Taco Bell will bring back its Mexican Pizza on Sept. 15, the day it will release a musical devoted to the product that itself was delayed when the company ran out of the product in May.
Mexican Pizza: The Musical, which apparently will star Dolly Parton and feature music created by the Grammy award-winning songwriting duo Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, will premiere at 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 15. It was written by Hannah Friedman and created by production houses Stept Studios and Steelhead along with the creative agency Deutsch LA.
In the process, it sets the stage for the end of what has been an odd saga involving one of the stranger products in fast food.
The Mexican Pizza was created in the 1980s. It consists of two tortillas filled with beef and refried beans and topped with tomato sauce, cheese and diced tomatoes. At one point it had olives and green onions, though they were later removed.
“It’s one of those unique products,” Mike Grams, chief operating officer for Taco Bell, said on a recent episode of the Restaurant Business podcast A Deeper Dive. “My mom talks about it and she’s certainly not our core customer.”
The product had a quiet-yet-loyal following, though certainly not strong enough that the pizza was able to survive the chopping block during the pandemic, when Taco Bell was working to cut the menu to a few core items.
The problem? Customers had shifted their focus to comfort food. They stopped being experimental and instead shifted spending to old favorites that made them happy. And, it seems, for a certain percentage of Taco Bell customers, the Mexican Pizza fit that bill.
Yet it was no longer available. “When the pandemic hit, people were looking for comfort food,” Grams said. “Times were a little different. That was an oversight on our part.”
In fairness, the pandemic and its aftermath have been difficult to predict, as have consumer reactions. The Mexican Pizza’s fans created a groundswell of support on social media. Taco Bell could not send a single social media post without several people asking about the product. That ultimately swept up others who may not have heard of the product.
It set the stage for the product’s return in May. But another post-pandemic challenge has been the supply chain. Demand was so strong that Taco Bell ran out of supplies after just a couple of weeks.
The limited run was still enough to generate strong sales. Taco Bell’s same-store sales rose 8% in the second quarter and 29% on a two-year stacked basis.
That’s been a common scenario in recent years, one reminiscent of the 2019 introduction of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, when sales were so strong it ran out of product in two weeks. Despite a two-month absence from the menu, its return proved stronger, generating the strongest quarter for a publicly traded fast-food chain in modern history.
Taco Bell probably can’t expect that kind of result when the Mexican Pizza returns. But the company’s decision to pull the product from its menu, then keep its fans at bay for well over a year before bringing it back, has apparently revitalized the product and made it a must-have.
“It got so much buzz that my mom and my uncle returned to Taco Bell,” Grams said. “And they hadn’t visited in a long time.”
“Nothing can be predictable,” he added. “But we ended up in a really good spot.”
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