Taco Bell’s popular nacho fries are the company’s most successful product launch ever. Customers have bought more than 53 million orders of the spicy cheesy concoction since it hit the menu in January. But the dollar-item isn’t the only big hit for the company. The Mexican fast food chain is known for churning out innovative food products such as its quesalupa, quesarito, or the naked egg taco. Cheddar got an exclusive bite of some of the new menu items in the pipeline at Taco Bell’s test kitchen in Los Angeles, including a “toasted cheese chalupa,” a taco made of aged cheddar cheese, scheduled to roll out next year. The company launches about 10 to 11 new menu items a year, according to Product Development Manager Rene Pisciotti. “We’ll start with the...prototypes. We’ll vet them, [then] we’ll start to put them through to guests,” explained Pisciotti. If an idea does well in the initial testing rounds with small groups of consumers, Taco Bell then eventually rolls the product out to test markets. “We run about 40 to 50 test markets a year.” But a strong product is only one ingredient for Taco Bell’s overall success. Another is smart, buzzy marketing that stays authentic to the brand. For example, the launch campaign for the nacho fries ran in the style of a movie trailer that asked the question on everyone’s mind: “Why doesn’t Taco Bell do fries?” “When we’re going to do anything from a food innovation standpoint, it has to feel uniquely and appropriately Taco Bell,” said Chief Marketing Officer Marisa Thalberg. “I think you have to be very careful that you don’t think you’re doing something for the sake of buzz. [If] an idea itself is exciting, it touches people, it makes people want to talk, it makes people want to share.” And the proof is in the...fries. Former CEO Brian Niccol recently left the company to take over at struggling rival Chipotle after successfully turning around Taco Bell. Same store sales grew by two percent in Q4 and its parent company, Yum Brands, posted profit that beat expectations.

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