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Taco Bell goes "gourmet"

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about TB's development of menu items that mimic those of Chipotle, in an attempt to widen their customer base. I've only been to the latter once so I don;t have a feel for how good or healthy their food is, though by default it would pretty much HAVE to be better than TB. What ticked me off in this piece was the use of the term "relevant" by one of the TB executives. He repeated it many times - corporate-speak for appealing and healthier. Something along the lines of "we realize that the traditional Taco Bell menu is not relevant for some segments of the American public", In other words, we really don't care that we are selling cheap bombs of salt and fat to people who can't afford better, or who are unaware of, or disregard, the detriment of such food to their health. So we'll keep the crap and just add on some less awful items in hopes of sucking in more white-collar customers. I suppose it's no different than burger chains adding salads and grilled sandwiches, but that venal, cynical use of "relevant" sticks in my craw more than a chalupa does!

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  1. I'm not sure I can get on-board with the cynical and, frankly, condescending, dismissive, nasty nature of the OP.

    First things first, I enjoy Taco Bell and have for many years. Taco Bell has fulfilled more than one midnight-munchies and/or drunken/hungover craving. Sure, I haven't been to Taco Bell in a couple years, but I still remember the cuisine fondly and oftent think I should stop by the one nearby when my mind is appropriately altered to accept such food.

    Second, I also enjoy Chipotle tremendously, in either a drunken or sober state. I've enjoyed basically everything I've had there, and I've had nearly the full menu, which isn't a complicated task to begin with since it is so tiny.

    Yes, Chipotle's are "healthier." They are processed less, include fewer binding/perserving ingredients, and taste fresher, but they are not, by any means, low-calorie. The tortilla for a Chipotle burrito will run you over 300 calories, and basically any burrito you order there will be 1000 calories, probably more. In fact, almost every dish at Chipotle is 1000 calories or more. Calorically, Chipotle's offerings are much more substantial than those at Taco Bell, which has a lot to do with serving size.

    Either way, and I'll get off my health-concious pedestal right now because I am not thinking of my health when I partake in either of these treats, my favorite offerings at both are:

    Taco Bell:
    Nachos Bell Grande
    Chalupa Supreme
    Taco Supreme (Hard or Soft)
    Burrito Supreme
    Double Decker Taco

    Chipotle:
    Carnitas Burrito
    Barbacoa Burrito
    Chips and Guacamole

    3 Replies
    1. re: MonMauler

      "Midnight drunken munchies" .....Many fond memories.....Sitting by the pool & fire pit tipping cold ones from 2 pm to 01:00 am .....whining kids asleep.....wives making a mad dash to Taco Hell with a couple $20.00's and bringing back a ton of food....seemed pretty damn good at the time....wife agrees, best hangover food there is.

      1. re: Tom34

        My midnight drunken munchies almost always involved four Jack in the Box tacos and an order of onion rings, back in the '70s when the onion rings were real. the tacos weren't, don't know how I got hung up on them, since I'm from the Sonoran desert and JIB tacos are nothing like real tacos, but they had a certain drunken appeal, which isn't a good thing. The other drunken munchies were pancakes and so forth at Village Inn.

        1. re: EWSflash

          Yeah, things seemed a whole lot simpler during the younger years. Truth is I lost my weekend cravings for fast food but every once in a while that stuff is just hard ti beat. I would actually be disappointed if they made healthy.

    2. Is Taco Bell fast food? Absolutely.

      Are they trying something new to appeal to a different demographic? Yep. Good for them.

      Will it be Chipotle-quality? Doubtful.

      Have you, the OP, tried it? No, you haven't. Neither have I. Let's wait until the actual product appears before declaring it "crap" and "awful", yes?

        1. I'm not sure I even understand the point of view being expressed in the original post. Is it that no business should ever try to expand its customer base by improving its offerings? That trying to do so is somehow "venal"? If you're known for bad products or service you should never try to improve them, that you should somehow know your place and stick to it? I don't get how someone can condemn a place both for being bad and for trying to be less so, for changing their product mix and at the same time accusing them of not caring about the original mix.

          It just doesn't compute for me. With just the slight tweaking of a few words in the paraphrased interpretation at the end of the post, the same quote could be applied to every business ever established, including Whole Foods or your local Farmer's Market, that has ever adapted to market conditions.

          1 Reply
          1. re: acgold7

            If I could "favorite" a post, you'd get a big thumbs-up.

          2. I am not a Taco Hell fan, but on a whim (and catalyzed by seeing this thread), I tried Taco Bell's Cantina Bowl today.

            What I liked:
            The corn salsa
            The cilantro sauce
            The fresh crispy lettuce
            The LACK of flavorless sour cream and orange processed cheese often dumped on Taco Bell dishes

            What was OK:
            The rice and black beans -- tasty but too salty

            What I didn't like:
            The "chicken" -- this was spongy industrial "grilled chicken" that I've encountered from other companies (e.g. in the "Chicken" Caesar's salad at my employer's cafeteria) and that has a homogeneous spongy texture I've never experienced at home. I sometimes wonder if this stuff is grown in a petri dish.
            Flavorless guacamole -- green slime.
            Saltiness! I've been drinking pints of water all evening as a result.

            2 Replies
            1. re: drongo

              We tried the Cantina Bowls today and your comments are right to the point. Plus, unlike the huge posters and illustrations showing it served in a white ceramic bowl, it's served in a shallow oval black plastic container, much like some frozen entrees come in. Plus you get to eat it with a plastic spork -- yum!

              The "Chicken" reminds me of surimi -- the fake seafood product that is usually seen here as "crab" (or is it Krab?) Meat is beaten into a paste and mixed with binders, then formed. I think surimi means "memory" of the original seafood/meat, but in this case it's a nightmare of chicken.

              Chipotle's has nothing to worry about.

              1. re: puzzler

                You may be puzzled, but ‚ÄĚsurimi" means "meat which has been sliced off or ground off the skeleton." In any case, your Cantina Bowl description sounds spot on. If you served that stuff in a real Cantina you would be violently attacked.

            2. I certainly HAVE had meals from Taco Bell, when nothing else was practical during a lunch break on the road. They tasted okay, but I knew they were crappy and awful, from a nutritional standpoint. I'd be praising TB if it were trying to improve its overall menu quality - e.g. cut back on the salt factor, which is over the top. Just adding some better quality choices for the sake of "relevance" is like spraying air freshener in the bathroom rather than repairing the backed-up toilet.

              1. Taco Bell will never even be on my radar unless they mimic the actual reason I, and other people I know, frequent Chipotle: the whole "food with integrity" thing, which they not only preach but actually practice. I think Chipotle's food tastes pretty good (for Americanized Mexican), but that's not why I go; and it certainly isn't cost or nutrition or particular convenience driving me there. It's their support of humane agriculture.

                Good luck, TB, I guess. I don't see this ever happening there.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Rilke

                  +1. I think their driving force is still getting over the "is it meat?" scandal.

                2. My coworkers got Chipotle the other day. One commented on how happy he was eating "healthy" by eating a salad. I suggested he go to the nutrition calculator on Chipotle's website. Imagine his surprise when he discovered his lunch was 1700 calories and almost 3000 mg of sodium. Taco Bell can't be much worse than that.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: mojoeater

                    I dunno, you CAN go somewhat healthy at Chipotle. I get the steak and black beans over lettuce with two salsas and a little cheese. Guac if I'm splurging. I just dip my fork in the salad dressing. All in all, it's much healthier than getting a burger.

                    1. re: Heatherb

                      What you just described is over 500 calories with no dressing. If you add guac, you go well over 600. Here's Chipotle's calculator, which probably low-balls it: http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/menu/nu...

                      ETA: just checked BK's site. A Whopper is 670 calories, roughly equivalent to your salad. Sodium levels are similar too. I'm not saying Chipotle is awful, I'm just saying we should be aware that no fast food option is ideal.

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        Yes, I know it's not ideal. I did say "somewhat healthy." I'm on Weight Watchers right now, and that salad usually works out to about 12-14 points or so in the plan. If it's your main meal for the day, 600 calories consisting largely of lettuce, lean meat, beans and salsa is not horrible. That combo keeps me full the entire day. The sodium is probably outrageous, but I don't eat a lot of sodium when I'm cooking for myself, so I can afford it.

                        1. re: mojoeater

                          Yeah, 600 kcals is not bad at all, if you have that for lunch and then a 600 kcal dinner.

                        2. re: Heatherb

                          A number of years back when I was following the DASH diet (medically recommended for pre-diabetics and a generally safe way to restrict caloric intake) TB was pretty much the only fast food restaurant I could go to when I felt that I had to have junk food or else. If I stayed with 2 tacos or 1 bean burrito (only 1 because of the carbs) I could fit the calorie and carb restrictions I needed to maintain. I couldn't find any other fast food restaurant at that time where I could fit real junk food into the diet and still felt like I'd eaten something.

                          Just because a restaurant is "fresh" doesn't mean they're healthy.

                        3. re: mojoeater

                          im not sure if that's correct.

                          but anyhow, if you do get a bowl without the tortilla, just beans, guac, salsa, lettuce, that's about 600 kcal. and i've had that a few time, definitely probably too much sodiumm but low in calories.

                          (once again, i left out the sour cream, cheese, rice, and meat so that saves a lot of calories).

                          1. re: mojoeater

                            I do the salad bowl, brown rice, fresh salsa, black beans and corn with no dressing. For dinner its filling and worth the calories.

                          2. <'cheap bombs of salt and fat to people who can't afford better'....>

                            Oh, come on. You're actually going to try and sell that myth and use TB as an example? I've popped in to TB on occasion, knowing full well the health factor isn't there....as a matter of fact, it's detrimental. I could have also taken the $5 over to the market and bought myself a salad or gone home and made myself one. The 'can't afford better' thing just doesn't cut it. There are always healthy options regardless of what people can/can't afford.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: latindancer

                              EXACTLY........On the rare occasion I buy fast food its because I get a craving for the intense salty / fatty flavor. Just about anything can be made cheaper & healthier at home but it does require turning off Jerry Springer , lifting one's self off the couch and preparing it. Its a cultural problem , not a cost problem.

                              1. re: Tom34

                                I did a study with GIS software once, I mapped all of the fast food stores, 7-11 style markets, regular grocery stores, and farmers markets in relationship to average income of the area. Then I added in accessibility factors - distance to walk (adding in a factor for hills etc.), bus accessibility, bike, car, etc. Not a comprehensive study by all means but I like to think I didn't leave anything major out to give a good general overview. Poor neighborhoods really did seem to have a very limited option as far as food goes. A lot of the time limited to 7-11 style mini marts, and with a much much higher density of fast food joints. Some places it was literally their only option. Some times they had pretty OK access to a decent market, but more often then not, they didn't.

                                1. re: Mcooper

                                  What area did you study? Philadelphia and New York City have extensive underground and above ground public transportation systems that reach out to the lowest income neighborhoods within the city limits and cost less than a pack of smokes to ride. In the big cities, many people consider a car more of a pain than its worth. IMHO, if people want something they usually find a way to get it...... AND it would appear they have no trouble getting "things" on a DAILY basis that require more effort & risk than a once a week trip to the grocery store. If not sure where one is, they can use their smart phones to find it.

                                  1. re: Tom34

                                    It was San Francisco. I thought the same as you do before I actually looked at the maps closely. Not by any means saying that it is impossible to get to places like that in poorer neighborhoods, just that often, it's a great deal more difficult. Have to walk further (couple miles can be a lot for some people especially with a weeks worth of groceries), spend more on the bus system. Where's the more affluent neighborhoods often just had a short walk and not even have to take the bus at all.

                                    It's not the only reason poorer people don't often get healthier foods, but it plays a part. That along side advertising that is focused on low income minorities, poor education due to poorly funded school systems (why would they go to all the effort of eating healthier if they don't even know why they should? or even how to?), and racism in general all play a part in it.

                                    1. re: Mcooper

                                      Agree to disagree. Very complicated & controversial subject that is probably better discussed on another forum. Thanks, Tom

                                      1. re: Tom34

                                        Thank you, I agree and am pleased to not discuss it further. :)

                              2. re: latindancer

                                Very relevant article in the NY Times a few months ago:
                                http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/hea...

                                Here's one paragraph to provide a flavor of the article:
                                "In one neighborhood in Camden, N.J., where 80 percent of children are eligible for a free school lunch, children bought empanadas, sodas and candy at a grocer, while adults said they had no trouble finding produce. Wedged in among fast food restaurants, convenience stores, sit-down restaurants, take-out Chinese and pizza parlors were three places with abundant produce: Pathmark and Save-A-Lot supermarkets and a produce stand."

                              3. I eat at Taco Bell because it is tasty junk food when I have a craving. I would never go there for a salad or anything healthy. ICK. I would never trust a corporate fast food giant to make healthy food. There are plenty of other places to go for a healthy lunch -and I cook healthy food daily, so I certainly don't have a shortage of healthy food in my life. I have a shortage of junk food in my life.... so I hope they don't change too much :)

                                1. Taco bell actually has a healthier menu.. and it bombs. They are clearly trying ot add DIFFERENT food that will attract a larger audience. Its not about healthy its about flavor and taste. The only meats offered at TB these days are chicken and beef. (Fish during lent in some areas.. ). So adding a carinatas or pulled pork or however the marketing mavens are going to call it to the menu is not a bad thing. Imagine if they added lengua or tripe...

                                  1. Oh, puh-leese.

                                    Calories and nutritional value in that bacon fat in which your gourmet food is sauteed?

                                    "natural" does not equal "nutritional."

                                    Pick a rationale-- do you dislike TBell because it's not healthy or "not foodie"?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                      Look at the health information on the fresca menu..........

                                    2. I'd rather they dig into their past..not the future. Bring back the chilito..aka chili cheese burrito.
                                      Or try their hand at something "different" like chorizo.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: rochfood

                                        Given KFC's success in bringing the Chicken Pot Pie back, I'd love to see a Taco Bell retro menu. Chilitos, enchiritos, tostadas, Bell Beefers...

                                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                                          I so miss those tostadas. To me they tasted even better cold. My friend still mourns a pita pocket style sandwich, long gone.

                                          1. re: givemecarbs

                                            Oh I used to love the tostadas. When TB first came to my area, the food was good. I went their with my mom and our friend (who is Mexican) all the time for lunch. You actually had refried beans!!!

                                      2. I hear what you are saying greygarious and I understand where you are coming from. I've been watching The Men Who Made Us Fat and find it fascinating. Taco Bell gets a dishonorable mention.
                                        To think this whole mess started because a dude wanted to sell more popcorn.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: givemecarbs

                                          I prefer the documentary.".The organic food which made us poor." ( And really wasn't that tasty.)