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John Martin, pioneer of value pricing at Taco Bell, dies

The former CEO is credited for building Taco Bell into a national brand

Former Taco Bell CEO John Martin, responsible from creating brand hallmarks such as value pricing and assembly cooking, has died. He was 73.

Martin served as president and CEO of Taco Bell during a key growth spurt for the Southern California chain. He was tapped in 1983 by then-Taco Bell owner PepsiCo to be president. By that time, Martin was known as visionary in the restaurant industry having worked at Wienerschnitzel, Burger Chef, Hardee’s and La Petite Boulangerie.  

At Taco Bell, his innovations over 13 years included streamlining kitchen operations, adding drive-thru windows, and introducing 59-cent tacos. Martin (left) transformed the company from a $600 million regional chain to a national brand with nearly $5 billion in annual sales.

“The restaurant industry, and business at large, has lost that magnetic and talented leader,” the Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell wrote in a tribute to the veteran leader.

In 1989, Martin unveiled a concept called “K-Minus,” where kitchen footprints were reduced in size and designed for assembly line production using prepared ingredients. That streamlining led to one of the chain’s biggest industry leading strategies: value pricing.

He cut the prices of tacos nearly in half in 1988 to 59 cents. Two years later, he introduced the three-tiered value menu, where items cost 59, 79 and 99 cents. In 1997, Martin introduced value combo meals at Taco Bell for $1.99, as the value platform became the driving force behind every move made by the company.

“John Martin put the ‘V’ in value! People near and far were astounded by what they could get for their hard-earned money,” Taco Bell said.

Competitors scrambled at the unprecedented low pricing, eventually leading to the proliferation of so-called dollar menus across the industry.

Martin’s imprint on Taco Bell went beyond operations. He brought humor and lightheartedness to the brand years before it cemented its irreverent culture. He was at the helm during the infamous Liberty Bell marketing stunt of 1996. Taco Bell, as an April Fools’ Day joke, advertised it had bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell.”

Martin is survived by his wife, Beth, of Scottsdale, Ariz. and his daughter, Elizabeth Martin of Southern California.  

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @FastFoodMaven

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