Taco Bell Aims To Hook Customers On 'Loco' Shell

Taco Bell has introduced a new taco with a shell made of Doritos. The "Doritos Locos" taco is an example of the lengths fast-food companies are going to in their efforts to differentiate themselves with customers.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And today's last word in business takes us to the competition in the restaurant industry. Analysts are forecasting modest gains for that restaurant industry for 2012. After a tough couple of years so many people didn't have money to eat out, a few more do now. And Taco Bell is among the chains making some dramatic moves to get your attention.

As NPR's Allison Keyes reports, Taco Bell plans to spend around $75 million advertising a new and surprising type of taco, the Doritos Locos taco.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOICES)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes, sir, how have you been?

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Taco Bell is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week and it's getting big buzz from a new product.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: One Dorito Taco Supreme.

KEYES: Yep, that's a Doritos Locos Taco, with shells made from Nacho Cheese Doritos. Some might be skeptical of such a pairing but not Robert Mack of New Jersey.

ROBERT MACK: I love Doritos. I love Taco Bell and having them both at the same time, why didn't someone think of this sooner?

KEYES: NPR watched as he took his first bite.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRUNCH)

MACK: It's really good - the best of both worlds.

KEYES: It's everything that you dreamed it would be?

MACK: Yes, it is.

KEYES: Taco Bell manager Tita Fonis(ph) says the tacos are a hot item.

TITA FONIS: More men buy the Doritos Tacos.

GREG CREED: So I think it's having breadth of appeal.

KEYES: Greg Creed is Taco Bell's CEO and says brands like his want to differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace, partly by having a lot of new ideas that will appeal to their customers, to new customers and create new expectations for a known brand.

CREED: It's really about - on multiple platforms and multiple layers - being very innovative.

(SOUNDBITE OF TACO BELL COMMERCIAL)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Just when you thought all the really good ideas were taken, introducing the new Doritos Locos tacos from Taco Bell.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

KEYES: You can't miss the TV ads for the new tacos, but other companies are trying to boost their shares too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV ADS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I had a shamrock shake.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I hate you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yup. Subway broke the 200-calorie breakfast barrier.

CREED: When it comes to innovation, we've seen some terrific products come out.

KEYES: Kurt Schnaubelt is a director in the restaurant and food-service practice with the global consulting firm AlixPartners. He says companies are finding ways to deliver products in ways people don't expect - from Burger King testing a delivery service in the Washington, D.C. area, to...

KURT SCHNAUBELT: Things like White Castle offering wine in their restaurants, Starbucks offering wine. You know, these are ways for these brands to increase their sales.

KEYES: Schnaubelt adds it's also a way to do so during times when the eateries had been getting light volume. But no matter what crazy things restaurants might be trying - including a growing focus on social media - Schnaubelt says...

SCHNAUBELT: Food quality's still the number one thing consumers want out of a restaurant.

KEYES: Oh, and that wine at White Castle thing, only happening at one store in Lafayette, Indiana - for now.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Cheers. That's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

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