Can a chain best known for fried, cheesy, Doritos-filled offerings also be a go-to for healthy food?
According to Taco Bell’s dietitian and product developer, Missy Nelson, the fast-food chain already is.
Nelson began working at Taco Bell more than four years ago. Since she arrived, Taco Bell has pledged to cut artificial ingredients and switch to cage-free eggs. The brand has introduced the lower-calorie Fresco menu, the high-protein Cantina menu, and a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association. Across all offerings, there has been a 15% reduction in sodium.
In the same time frame, the taco chain has also premiered the Doritos Locos taco, the waffle taco, and, most recently, the uber-cheesy Quesalupa.
- Hollis Johnson
Clearly, nutrition-savvy advances can coexist with products that few would put on their diet plans. In my own experience after a week of eating nothing but fast food, Taco Bell was one of the best chains around to find healthy options.
Taco Bell’s game plan for adding healthy options while releasing craveable hits is simple.
“We just really encourage people to customize to however it fits their lifestyle,” Nelson says.
From top to bottom, Taco Bell, especially in its online and mobile ordering platforms, has been subtly organized to promote this sense of choice – whether to pig out or to eat healthy.
- Taco Bell
Not eating meat? Click “Vegetarian” to see all the veggie and vegan options. Want to cut calories? Simply hit the “make it Fresco” button to cut cheese, rice, and sour cream and add pico de gallo.
“It’s one click and it automatically does it for you,” Nelson says of the Fresco option. “Now we’re seeing a huge increase in Fresco-style orders through our mobile ordering.”
Then comes the endless options to customize.
It’s a system that can be used to create a monster burrito, filled with bacon, potatoes, and spicy ranch. But it can also be used to shave some calories and fat off your meal. And no matter what you order, it’s equally easy to figure out the nutritional information with the customizable nutrition calculator.
Nelson also says tiny details, such as the font style and the phrasing on the online list of ingredients, have been tweaked to make it easier for customers to read and understand the menu.
- Taco Bell
By positioning its nutrition strategy around choice, Taco Bell gets to keep less-than-healthy options on the menu. It also frees the chain of the need to directly compete with health-obsessed fast-casual chains like Chipotle when it comes to nutrition.
“Us touting ourselves as a health halo – it’s not authentic and it’s not real,” Taco Bell spokesman Alec Boyle says.
Instead of running ad campaigns focused on health and freshness, the company prefers to make nutritional information available to those who want to make healthier choices. That ranges from providing online FAQs for customers searching for the best way to eat healthy at Taco Bell to having more in-depth conversations with “influencers” who are interested in the topic.
Nelson has led the chain in making some changes that affect the entire menu, such as the move toward cutting sodium and simplifying ingredients.
Overall, however, the onus at Taco Bell is on customers to be healthy. The fast-food chain has provided taco lovers with surprisingly useful nutrition tools – now, they just have to use them.