This post is part of the Reporter's Notebook blog.
It was only a matter of time.
Yes, Taco Bell is testing a burrito with hidden Crunchy Cheetos in the filling.
I say hidden because the orange of the Cheetos blends with the neon filling of nacho cheese sauce, extra buttery rice and seasoned ground beef. So you don’t immediately see the Cheetos. But, when you take a bite, there they are, all crunchy in an otherwise rich and salty sea of flavors.
Taco Bell was offering tastes of the Cheetos Burrito, as it has been dubbed, at the chain’s Irvine, Calif.-based headquarters this week. Scheduled for test in Cincinnati restaurants starting in mid August, the new burrito is an example of a menu item that was inspired by food innovation for international locations, an area of growth for Taco Bell.
With only about 300 international units across 26 countries, Taco Bell is gunning to grow overseas. The goal is to reach 1,000 international units by 2020.
But because Mexican flavors are not very familiar in some parts of the world, Taco Bell has been working hard to develop menu items that offer bridge flavors familiar to the respective local cultures.
In India, for example, Taco Bell doesn’t serve beef, but has a tikka masala burrito made with chicken. In Korea, quesadillas are stuffed with extra spicy kimchee. In Spain, where tapas-like snacking is common, Taco Bell serves adorable Crunchwrap sliders filled with s’mores-like chocolate and marshmallow crème.
Shivram Vaideeswaran, director of marketing for Taco Bell International, said the chain is planning to fill in existing markets, but plans to move into new countries like China and Brazil before the end of the year.
Actually, Louisville, Ky.-based parent Yum! Brands Inc. had a version of Taco Bell in China about 10 years ago, but it was a full-service restaurant not very much like those found in the U.S.
The international restaurants being grown now are similar to the urban units also growing in the U.S.: smaller footprint stores with an emphasis on design and customer experience. One unit in India, for example, has seating in a shipping container built into the restaurant, on top of which a DJ plays music at night.
Meanwhile, since the Taco Bell test kitchen is exploring new flavors for international locations, some of these ideas may find their way onto the chain’s domestic menu, said Vaideeswaran.
The Cheetos Burrito, for example, was a Canadian variation of the Beefy Crunch Burrito that in the U.S. was spiked with Flamin’ Hot Fritos corn chips. Canadian restaurants did a version with Cheetos as a Crunchwrap slider, and it was a hit.
Of course, it should be noted that Burger King has also tapped the culinary strength of the Cheeto in its recent Mac ‘n Cheetos. But Taco Bell, maker of the game-changing Doritos Locos Taco, was a truly a pioneer in incorporating junk food into menu items.
Like the Beefy Crunch, the U.S. version of the Cheetos Burrito will be priced at a recommended $1.
Also in test in the U.S. is a more portable version of nachos, which Taco Bell calls “Walking Nachos.” It includes a foil-lined bag of spiced corn chips — no, not Doritos — with more-premium toppings, including seasoned beef, guacamole, a three-cheese blend, pico de gallo and sour cream, for a recommended $2.99.
You can eat them while walking, but expect there to be consequences on your clothing, and perhaps the clothing of others.
Walking Nachos are being tested in Charlotte, N.C., next month.
Also taste tested was the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which was first called the Naked Chicken Taco when tested in Kansas City, Mo., earlier this year. The Naked Chalupa is on deck for potential national rollout across the chain’s 6,700 U.S. restaurants next year, and will be priced at a recommended $2.99.
It’s everything you’d expect a chalupa to be, if the “shell” were made of very thin fried chicken patties and filled with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and avocado ranch dressing.
Melissa Friebe, vice president of Taco Bell’s insights lab, said such products are a continuation of the founding principals established by Glen Bell when he launched the brand more than 50 years ago.
“Glen Bell wanted to revolutionize fast food,” she said. “And that’s what we’re doing at Taco Bell.”