Taco Bell CEO Sean Tresvant walked onto a stage inside a giant tent on the Las Vegas Strip on Friday and declared, “I think we’re literally inside a giant Crunchwrap.”
A giant version of the Mexican fast-food chain’s signature item was probably the only thing that the company didn’t reveal at the event, called Live Mas Live, though there was one version stuffed with a giant Cheez-It that will apparently be on the menu sometime this year.
The Irvine, Calif.-based chain opted to reveal its full marketing calendar at one time in a single event, which was held two days before the Super Bowl. It was inspired by Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, only instead of new iPhones the event featured tacos.
There were NFL stars, such as Las Vegas Raiders receiver Davante Adams and musicians Armani White, LP Giobbi and Omar Apollo, awards for the chain’s fans and an awful lot of neon. The company also announced TBX, a program featuring a trio of upcoming young chefs who will work with the company to create a new version of the Crunchwrap.
“I watch Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, and I just had this moment,” Taco Bell CMO Taylor Montgomery said in an interview. “I believe that we’re one of the most innovative companies in the world. So, if Apple can get more people interested than have an iPhone, can we do something?”
In addition, Montgomery said, the company’s fans wanted the brand to show them what they’re thinking. “Let’s just create this moment for all our fans everywhere and show them what they’re thinking about,” he said.
The brand, like just about all restaurant chains, typically keeps its marketing calendar close to the vest, opting to announce products only when they are close to being released. But menu can be a poorly kept secret in these days of social media.
“I love you guys very much,” Montgomery said to Redditors in the audience of about 300, plus those watching via livestream of the event. “But every time we have this secret, you guys leak it before we can. Tonight, we get to be the leak.”
As for the items themselves, the company’s planned introductions feature a lot of chicken, extensions of previous items and a few new dessert items.
Among the first new introductions will be a Cantina Chicken Menu, a selection of items featuring oven-roasted and shredded chicken seasoned with Mexican spices such as pasilla and a variety of chilies. The menu will feature some new ingredients to the menu, including purple cabbage, pico de gallo, a white corn taco shell and Avocado Verde Sauce.
The menu will feature a burrito, soft and crispy tacos, a quesadilla and a bowl.
“Cantina is our big launch this year,” Liz Matthews, chief food innovation officer for Taco Bell, said in an interview. “It’s all centered around slow-roasted chicken.”
Indeed, chicken was also a major theme of the items: Introductions include a Cheesy Chicken Crispanada, featuring marinated chicken with Monterey pepper jack, cheddar and mozzarella cheese inside a pastry dough that is fried so it’s crisp. There are also Chicken Nuggets, which the company tested last year, and a chicken enchilada version of its Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco from last year.
Chicken is a major source of menu development in the fast-food world, largely because consumers eat a lot more of the protein these days.
“Obviously, that’s what the next generation wants,” Matthews said. “And quite honestly, I don’t think we have our fair share of chicken.”
The company is also planning extensions of various brands and items, such as the Mountain Dew Baja Blast Gelato and Dulce de Leche Cinnabon Delights.
Those aren’t the only two dessert items on the list. One is the Ice Cream Chocolate Taco, made from cinnamon ancho ice cream stuffed in hand-pressed waffle cones shaped like taco shells and dipped in chocolate studded with toasted brown rice. There are dips and sauces on the side.
The ice cream comes from the fast-growing Portland, Ore.-based ice cream concept Salt & Straw.
Indeed, Taco Bell is pushing several additional partnerships, including a planned test of a menu featuring Mexican spice mix Tajin, including a taco, Tajin Twists and a Tajin Strawberry Freeze. There are a pair of hot sauce partnerships, including the Portland-based hot sauce brand Secret Aardvark and Disha Hot, the sauce made by Apollo’s family. And the company plans to sell a Horchata Cold Brew Latte featuring coffee from the ready-to-drink cold-brew maker Beekeeper Coffee.
And then there was the Cheez-It Crunchwrap, with a Cheez-It that is 16 times the size of a normal Cheez-It inside a Crunchwrap with seasoned beef, nacho cheese and other toppings.
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