CEO Promises a ‘Better Taco Bell’ With Healthier Menu Items

Last year, in an effort to compete with more upscale fast food chains like Chipotle (and to improve its own image), Taco Bell launched its Cantina menu, created by top chef Lorena Garcia. Now, the taco joint is hoping to take a bigger bite out of the health-conscious set by overhauling some of its menu items to meet higher nutritional standards.

CEO Greg Creed told reporters on Wednesday that his company plans to offer more nutritionally sound products and commit to more transparency. As part of the revamp, the chain plans to have twenty percent of its combo meals amount to no more than one-third of the U.S.’ daily recommended calorie guidelines.

In other words, assuming that most people eat three meals a day (what, no fourthmeal?!), Taco Bell’s meal deals would each contain no more than one-third of that total calorie count (based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s roughly 666 calories). “We have to offer more balanced options,” he said. Dietary guidelines for fat, sodium and other ingredients will be taken into consideration as well.

Doesn’t this move go against everything Taco Bell stands for? Not necessarily.

Mr. Creed did point out that the Taco Bell brand will not be undergoing a major fundamental shift. “We are not going to walk away from who Taco Bell is,” said Mr. Creed, adding that the company recognizes that in order to grow its business, it needs to be a “better Taco Bell” and a “more relevant Taco Bell”, but not an altogether different restaurant. (And drunk college kids everywhere can heave a collective sigh of relief knowing that no one will threaten their right to greasy midnight taco/chalupa binges.)

While the truly health-conscious and the real-food-missionaries will still steer clear of Taco Bell, this overhaul is the right move if the company plans to meet its goal of doubling the size of its business over the next 10 years. A surprising study by The Hudson Institute recently found that lower-calorie foods have been driving growth at major restaurant chains. Between 2006 and 2011, lower-calorie foods and beverages were the major growth drivers for the eateries analyzed, and in 17 of the 21 chains, these “healthier” items outperformed less heart-friendly classics.

So it’s yet another example of consumer demand for healthier food options and transparency driving major changes in food production. Now, if Taco Bell would just bring back the mildly offensive but oh-so-quotable chihuahua, we’d call their rebranding plan complete.