With all the hoopla about Taco Bell's new breakfasts, some more interesting news slipped under the radar.
In a recent Reddit AMA Taco Bell President Brian Niccol said his dream would be to add beer to the menu. It seems he was being coy. Because if their Hollywood location is any indication, they're not only serving beer, but speciality cocktails, too.
Back in January, Taco Bell released new Apple-flavored sodas as well as Mountain Dew Sangrita. "That was only the beginning," Niccol confirmed.
In addition to the Hollywood flagship store, they are also testing the Chicago and Tulsa markets. They will exclusively carry Dos Equis, and Cruz Garcia Sangria. "But there's much more than that," Niccol told me. Back in December of last year, Niccol tasked Yum Brands R&D Director Mike Flynn, to find the right mixologist to further augment the drinks menu.
"It was not easy to celebrate the spirit of Taco Bell in adult beverages. There were several misfires," Flynn said, laughing. "Our Gin and Tapatio guzzler didn't go down well."
Niccol admits Taco Bells Fiesta Favorites drinks menu is part of a larger strategy to compete with Starbucks Evenings, which has been quite popular since it was introduced. "We might be seen as audacious for competing with McDonalds breakfast items," Niccol said. "But we believe we have an edge with the drinking demographic over Starbucks."
When I asked why he thought so, Niccol was candid. "People coming to Taco Bell during the Fourth Meal hour are coming after a night of partying. We just thought, hey, let's keep the party going all night." Emphasis on night, too. Taco Bell Signature Drinks are not available until after 8PM.
Far from using rotgut made with bottom shelf booze, Niccol and Flynn have worked hard to create signature cocktails. "Creating the perfect cocktail is just like any other menu item," Flynn said. "We put a lot of thought into the ingredients. We don't just make something slapdash. We test it until it's perfect."
In addition to the beer and sangria, Taco Bell has three Signature drink items. The Cantina Classic is a tequila-based drink that is finished with lime, jalapeño and shaved Monterey Jack cheese. The Loco Supreme is their take on the Mexican favorite michelada. While the Michelada is beer, lime juice and hot sauce, the Loco Supreme is made with Taco Bell hot sauce, and adds a dash of Lawry's Seasoned Salt. And finally, the Bahama Bellgrande, which is a cross between a Piña Colada and a Manhattan, swapping the maraschino cherry garnish with a Taco Bell churro.
Flynn told me the drinks stand alone, but pair very well with food. In fact, Taco Bell's brand creative director Tracee Larocca, told me they're rolling out a Perfect Pair app in June which is still in beta, according to their agency of record, Deutsch.
I asked Niccol if he had any watch-outs, but he was quick to dismiss the question. "There will be no television ads for this, so it's not like kids are going to see it." Besides, Taco Bell staff will be checking ID's and they won't serve to anyone who is visibly intoxicated. "Let's face it," he joked. "Taco Bell employees serve drunks every night. They're pretty good at recognizing who's had too much."
He finished by saying the drinks are meant for a more sophisticated audience. "We're going to woo the Starbucks crowd, just liek we're wooing the McDonalds breakfast crowd."
I have yet to personally try any of their drinks, but when I drove by the Hollywood location this past Saturday evening, it was packed. Anecdotal evidence aside, it seems Taco Bell is really going for a larger piece of the fast food market share.
Niccol summed it up best. "From breakfast to 'last call,' there's something for everyone to enjoy at Taco Bell."