Taco Bell Quesalupa 2.0
Forthcoming menu items from Taco Bell include Quesalupa 2.0 in flavors including Volcano and Bacon Club.

LOUISVILLE, KY. — The Taco Bell brand is centered on three ‘C’s. “You have to be current, you have to be creative, and you have to have a cause,” said Brian Niccol, chief executive officer of Taco Bell.

This strategy among others has helped drive five years of same-store sales growth for the Mexican fast-food chain, which is expected to reach $15 billion in global system sales by 2022. The brand already has grown well beyond $9 billion, up from $7 billion in 2011.

How does Taco Bell remain current?

Brian Niccol, Taco Bell
Brian Niccol, c.e.o. of Taco Bell

“Our food has to stay current,” Mr. Niccol said during parent company Yum! Brands’ investor and analyst conference on Oct. 11. “So, some things that we have accomplished: We have reduced sodium by 15% since 2008; we will get to 25% reduction by 2025. Actually, on Nov. 17, we will be 100% cage-free eggs across our system. And by Jan. 1, 2017, all our chicken will no longer have human crossover antibiotics…

“These aren’t things that are going to define us, but these are things that we are doing quietly because it keeps the food current with young people, and it is the right thing to do.”

Taco emoji
Taco Bell petitioned to create a taco emoji, which came to fruition.

Efforts to be creative play out in social media initiatives, including the launch of a Snapchat lens that generated record impressions on the platform, drawing 48 million unique users.

“The other thing that I think we have done to keep the brand really current and creative is we have petitioned to create a taco emoji,” Mr. Niccol said. “We thought it was completely wrong that in the keyboard there was no taco in there. Luckily there were about another 30,000 people that agreed with us, and we now have Taco and Bell in the emoji world. So we take that credit.”

The third ‘C,’ cause, is admittedly an area of weakness for Taco Bell, Mr. Niccol said.

Taco Bell Live Mas Scholarship
Taco Bell has a Live Mas Scholarship program designed to reward young people for their passions.

“On the cause side of things, I think this is hugely important, and frankly it is one of the things that we need to do a better job at Taco Bell,” he said. “We have this Live Mas scholarship program… It is really around rewarding kids for their passion. So it is not an academic scholarship or an athletic scholarship; it is all about finding your passion and then rewarding you for that passion. And we have had over 220 kids get awarded scholarships, and it has ranged from kids that want to change the environmental situation we are faced with to folks that actually like to trick out cars.

“And… all are equally important because it gets young people motivated to make a difference, make an impact. And what we have seen is those people that have become aware of our Live Mas scholarship, their net sentiment of the brand is over 92% positive. So it is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Beyond the three ‘C’s, Taco Bell is focused on leading the industry in value and innovation. Forthcoming menu items include the Naked Chicken Chalupa, Crispy Chicken Chips, Double Stacked Tacos and Quesalupa 2.0, in flavors including Volcano and Bacon Club.

Taco Bell new chalupas
Taco Bell plans to launch the Naked Chicken Chalupa.

The brand also is doubling down on digital communication, underpinned by the recent introduction of a social customer care program, “which to my knowledge in our industry is the only place where we are doing live chat to resolve customer complaints,” Mr. Niccol said.

“The second thing is on food safety,” he added. “We have created a customer protection app, and this is where we have all these sources of data where we are tracking with our suppliers and our restaurants on what is happening from a food safety standpoint. This is real time batching all that data every hour so that we have insight on what is happening in all our restaurants on an hourly basis as well as all of our suppliers.

“It has become a huge, I think, powerful tool that we’ll continue to leverage going forward so that we stay ahead of the curve on food safety. We believe it is our obligation to continue to lead in this space and partner with our industry to make sure that the food chain is safer than ever.”

Taco Bell expansion plan
 By 2022, Taco Bell expects to operate more than 8,000 locations in the United States and more than 1,000 units in 40 countries.

Other initiatives under way at Taco Bell include the opening of contemporary new formats, including walk-up and container stores, and the addition of beer and wine in several locations.

“…the store in Wicker Park we are selling beer and wine, 20% of the sales are going through drinks, which is pretty powerful,” Mr. Niccol said. “We have also opened one in San Francisco; they are just about to get their beer license. And we have 20 more in the pipeline for pedestrian-dense areas. And we are really excited about what this can present for the Taco Bell brand.”

Taco Bell continues to expand domestically and internationally, with 6,975 U.S. restaurants and another 300 units in 22 countries. By 2022, the company expects to operate more than 8,000 locations in the United States and more than 1,000 units in 40 countries.

Taco Bell new tacos and chicken chips
More innovation from Taco Bell includes Double Stacked Tacos and Crispy Chicken Chips.

“As you think about going forward, how are we going to continue to win in our industry, I think it is going to be the basics,” Mr. Niccol said. “We are going to be delivering on price value, we are going to be delivering on bundle value, and we are going to be delivering on innovation.

“But behind all of this I think is a brand that is craveable, affordable, Mexican-inspired and products that only Taco Bell can do. Why do we call things Quesalupa? Because we are the only brand that can; that is why.”