Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco is an important part of Yum! Brands' (YUM) strategy to turn the chain's fortunes around in the U.S.
It's also a crazy idea, and one of the strangest menu items you can find at America's fast food chains.
We spoke with two members of the innovation team at Taco Bell, marketing manager Kat Garcia and product developer Steve Gomez, about how they developed the Doritos taco.
The Birth of the Idea
It all started in the most stereotypically corporate way possible: a brainstorming session.
Folks from the teams at Taco Bell and Frito-Lay got together to come up with ideas for co-branded items, and they drew up all the ideas they came up with. One idea stuck out: a taco with a Doritos shell.
The idea was such a hit that it made its way all the way up the corporate ladder. The CEOs and CMOs of both Taco Bell and Frito-Lay talked about what an amazing idea it was, and they wanted to make it happen.
"That was a key to the success of this," says Garcia. "Everyone from the top down was willing to make this happen.
The first iteration of the Doritos taco shell was just a regular yellow Taco Bell taco with Doritos nacho cheese flavoring added to it.
It bombed. Focus groups didn't like it because the execution was severely lacking, but they did think the idea was great.
"People didn't really believe that it was really truly Doritos," says Garcia, and the reality check sent them on a mission. They had to make it as authentic as possible. Or, as Gomez says, it had to be "really legit."
"We needed to be as true to the chip as possible," says Garcia. "Our main focus was to make sure that it was completely legitimate -- that it was a real recipe and that people really knew it."
That's why so much of Taco Bell's marketing of the product reminds you that it really is Doritos. In the ads, Taco Bell makes sure to feature the original Doritos chips, along with the Doritos packaging, to make sure that the message comes across.
So, bottom line, how different is the current product available in stores from regular retail Doritos in bags?
"It's similar in the sense that it starts off with a corn [formula]," says Gomez. "It has the same texture as the chip, and the current yellow shell doesn't have that chip effect. The flavoring is exactly the same as the retail chip."
And yes, your fingers end up dusted orange, just like a normal Nacho Cheese Doritos chip.
Two years after the taco adventure began, Doritos Locos Tacos finally launched with a ton of hype at its back. But that launch brought a new set of issues for Taco Bell.
"You can imagine the amount of shells we need for a launch like this," says Gomez. "You have to make something efficiently and fast no matter what the category is. That's where the tech and innovation comes into play."
Taco Bell knows how to make taco shells and Frito-Lay knows how to make Doritos. So they had to put their technical skills together to come up with a way to produce these things on a huge scale.
The engineers managed to pull it off, and there are now four production lines for Doritos Locos Tacos strategically located around the country to supply its restaurants.
What's next for Taco Bell and Frito-Lay?
Frito-Lay parent PepsiCo (PEP) owned Taco Bell for a long time, having bought it from its founder Glen Bell in 1978. It spun off its restaurant business in 1997, and since then, the two companies have done some projects together.
For instance, Mountain Dew Baja Blast -- a tropical-lime-flavored soft drink -- is a flavor made exclusively for sale at Taco Bell and is specially formulated to go with the chain's fare. And last year, Taco Bell released the Beefy Crunch Burrito, which had "Flamin' Hot" Fritos inside of it.
"This is just the beginning of a bigger broader idea and a whole new business," says Garcia, who assures us that there's "other ideas in the hopper." So get ready, the upcoming Cool Ranch version of the Doritos Locos Tacos won't be the end of this partnership.
But will any of them work? An important thing for Taco Bell is to make these products stick, and make sure consumers don't consider it a one-time gimmick like the limited-time offerings fast food chains constantly churn out.
The nacho cheese version created plenty of buzz and got people into stores one time, but the turnaround-minded Taco Bell is counting on them to come back for more if it wants to put up a better fight against brands like Chipotle (CMG).