Taco Bell held its inaugural Live Más Live event Friday in a popup space on the Las Vegas Strip, harnessing a little extra energy from the city amid its Super Bowl revelry. The brand hosted about 300 of its most loyal fans for a show that featured DJ LP Gobbi, Feed the Beat artists Armani White and Omar Apollo, a brief Taco Bell Awards ceremony, and CEO Sean Tresvant, Chief Food Innovation Officer Liz Matthews, and CMO Taylor Montgomery providing a 2024 update in front of a flashy backdrop. The scene was somewhat reminiscent of an Apple launch event, but instead of highlighting the latest iPhone or new Vision Pro, executives ticked off a number of new products coming down the pike this year spanning all dayparts and including entirely new platforms and partnerships for the 62-year-old company.
The new news comes on the heels of parent company Yum Brands’ Q4 call last week in which CEO David Gibbs said Taco Bell will launch at least one new product every five weeks, or twice the rate of 2023. It’s not as though the brand was stagnant in 2023, by the way. So, why even more acceleration, and why now?
“We spent a lot of time with the fans, and they want more from us. They want more reasons to visit Taco Bell, they want more chicken, they want more afternoon treats,” Matthews said during an interview. “So, it is listening to them and then figuring out how we’re going to make this happen.”
Here’s what Taco Bell is planning to make happen this year:
More chicken. Much more.
In March, Taco Bell will launch a new Cantina Chicken menu with five new items – a Cantina Chicken burrito, Cantina Chicken soft taco, Cantina chicken crispy taco, Cantina chicken quesadilla, and Cantina chicken bowl. The items feature oven-roasted, shredded chicken seasoned with spices such as pasilla and other chilies, as well as other new ingredients such as purple cabbage, pico de gallo, a white corn taco shell, and a new sauce, Avocado Verde salsa. The Cantina Chicken menu is a play for more lunch business, according to Montgomery.
“We know you guys love us for late-night. We want you to love us for more than just late-night,” he said, adding that the company has received an abundance of feedback from fans saying they would visit Taco Bell more for lunch if there were more chicken options.
Both Matthews and Montgomery said with all the menu launches coming this year, they’re most excited about the Cantina Chicken menu.
“I’m excited about consumers creating a new relationship with Taco Bell and the Cantina Chicken is going to do it,” Montgomery said.
“Right now, our focus is on Cantina, Cantina, Cantina,” Matthews said. “You have your classic Taco Bell and then you have Cantina. It’s just a different vibe.”
It’s not the only chicken offering on deck, however. Coming off a fall 2023 test, Taco Bell is bringing its interpretation of Crispy Chicken Nuggets to the menu this year, paired with the choice of two sauce options – Bell sauce, with tomatoes, red chiles, onion, and garlic, or the hot and sweet Jalapeño Honey Mustard, featuring sweet honey mustard and jalapeño.
And, the Cheesy Chicken Crispanada hits menus Feb. 15, featuring chicken slow cooked with garlic, tomato and onion, as well as Monterey pepper jack, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses inside a crisped pastry dough.
Matthews said Taco Bell’s uptick in chicken offerings is in response to the increase in chicken consumption, particularly among younger consumers. Indeed, chicken has become the most consumed protein throughout the past 30 years and younger consumers have driven that trend even further with their preference for boneless chicken.
Sure, concepts like CosMc’s, Dutch Bros, 7 Brew and more have made headlines in recent months, but that’s not deterring Taco Bell from injecting itself more deeply into the beverage conversation. It will do so through a partnership with Beekeeper Coffee, a ready-to-drink cold brew and latte company known for its signature drop of honey. The companies have co-created a Horchata Cold Brew Latte.
Taco Bell also provided its Churro Chillers shake during the Live Mas Live event, which went into test in December. Matthews said it will move into a bigger test this year and is a direct response for fans asking for more afternoon treats.
“I think we’re going to find out where we fit into the (beverage) conversation,” Matthews said. “But we’re going to have to do it the Taco Bell way and there’s going to have to be a unique spin to it, like with our Churro Chillers.”
More Mtn. Dew Baja Blast
Of course, Taco Bell already has its signature beverage with the Mtn. Dew Baja Blast, which made its debut in restaurants in August 2004 and recently hit retail shelves for the first time. The companies tested an energy drink in the fall and a gelato in August and they’re now about to go even bigger this year in celebration of the drink’s 20th birthday. The gelato will be available nationwide for a “very limited time” at the end of the summer, while Taco Bell will also feature a Baja Blast pie.
Matthews said consumers simply want more sauces now and Taco Bell is well positioned to meet this demand.
“In our history, sauce has been important and in our future, sauce will be important,” she said. “I think more people want experiences through those sauces, whether traditional sauces or something new and unexpected. I want to see a world where we do something with sauce and people are like, ‘holy smokes, I’ve never had a sauce like that.’ It’s going to be about the experience.”
And so, this year Taco Bell will add Avocado Verde Salsa to its existing sauce lineup. It is also teaming up with sauce companies to co-create new items, including Tajín, Secret Aardvark, and Disha Hot.
Notably, the chain is also partnering with Portland-based ice cream company Salt & Straw to create the Taco Bell x Salt & Straw Ice Cream Chocolate Taco, a waffle cone filled with cinnamon ancho ice cream dipped in chocolate and studded with toasted brown rice. Perhaps the highlight from this launch, however, is the dipping and topping sauces that come with the product – mango jalapeno, cinnamon wild berry, chocolate chili, and cheesecake.
A giant Cheez-It
The Cheez-It Crunchwrap will find its way onto menus nationwide at some point this year. Montgomery said the product features a Cheez-It that is 16 times bigger than a regular Cheez-It.
“It’s innovative, it’s delicious and it was our number one test in 2022,” Montgomery said. It will also be available as a Tostado.
… And more
We’ll see even more than this from Taco Bell this year, including Cheesy Street Chalupas, with chicken or steak and filled with mozzarella and pepper jack cheeses.
“This is everything you love about street tacos – the size, onions, cilantro, carne asada, chicken, all twisted in a way that only Taco Bell can because our street Chalupas have cheese on the inside,” Montgomery said.
Speaking of cheese, the cheesy enchilada Dipping Taco will be the company’s latest iteration of its grilled cheese dipping taco launched last year. And, the company will also launch an iteration of its Cinnabon Delights with a new Dulce de Leche flavor. Finally, Nacho Fries will be available this year longer than they’ve ever been before. Montgomery said the company is trying to “figure out” how to make them permanent."
“How do we create more reasons for consumers to come into restaurants,” Montgomery said. “That is what we are 100% focused on.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]