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Taco Bell tests Chipotle competitor: "U.S. Taco Co.".

Taco Bell is launching a fast-casual concept in Huntington Beach CA and another SoCal location: U.S. Taco Co. Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told AdAge the idea started to take shape about a year ago, after the company did some routine consumer-segmentation research. The company found "a number of segments that provide growth for Taco Bell." One of those segments is made up of consumers who are willing to spend a little more for higher-quality ingredients and better atmosphere beyond what the traditional fast-food chain offers.

"We could spend time and money trying to get these people interested in Taco Bell," he told AdAge, but they would probably never become regular Taco Bell patrons. "We thought, maybe there's a new brand we can create to address this opportunity," he said, adding that the chain "has the talent and the money" to explore new concepts.

And so U.S. Taco Co., with logo art reminiscent of Day of the Dead sugar skulls, was born. The first location is slated to open up in the next few months and the menu's focus will be on tacos, fries and shakes.

The giant player in the Mexican fast-casual concept is Chipotle. The differentiator for U.S. Taco Co., said Jeff Jenkins, senior brand manager at Taco Bell who also works on mobile for the brand, is that the focus will be on tacos and that the menu is not standard taco fare. "There's a lot of great fusion going on, a lot of it coming from the food-truck scene," said Jenkins told AdAge. "Our fusion is the best of America in a taco."

Offerings include spins on various regional American food such as a taco inspired by a Philly cheesesteak called Brotherly Love, or one inspired by Southern fried chicken called Winner Winner.

The second location in the Los Angeles area is in the works and will offer beer, wine and even boozy milkshakes like the Mexican Car Bomb, which includes vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes and Guinness stout.

"The menu is simple and we wanted it limited to be focused on tacos, fries and shakes," said Rene Piscoitti, executive chef at U.S. Taco Co. and a Taco Bell executive, adding that the chain has already developed a number of tacos well beyond what will be offered at first. "We're starting with 10 tacos but we have an opportunity for more — we have 20 more in queue we could pull in anytime."

U.S. Taco Co. interior rendering U.S. Taco Co. interior rendering

See the Ad Age story here.

RBR-TVBR observation : As we've noted in a recent interview with Studio Orca founder Chris Golub--who programs all of the Chipotle restaurants' music--sometimes it's the music that helps bring them in and keeps them coming back, as well as the food quality and service. U.S. Taco Co. should take a hint from Chipotle and make the music almost a dual centerpiece with the food in the overall dining experience offering. In Chipotle the music is fairly loud, but it's really good and creates a great atmosphere--not only for the patrons, but the employees as well. This was evidenced by a recent trip to Michigan and a stop at the Streetsboro, OH (Cleveland area) location on the way. These employees were fast, friendly and were clearly "jamming" to the music. Music can indeed improve productivity as well as cash register rings.

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Publication:Radio and Television Business Report (RBR+TVBR)
Date:Apr 24, 2014
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