- Last year, Taco Bell eliminated eight menu items, upsetting vegetarian consumers who liked its Mexican Pizza and Spicy Potato Soft Taco.
- But starting March 11, the Spicy Potato Soft Taco and Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes will be back on the menu.
- The Yum Brands chain also announced plans to test a menu item made with Beyond Meat's beef substitute.
Taco Bell wants to bring back its vegetarian customers.
Taco Bell eliminated eight menu options in two rounds of cuts to help simplify its operations when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in long lines at its drive-thrus. The exits of the cult-favorite Mexican Pizza and other items angered vegetarians, who have fewer fast-food options to choose from, although the chain said it still had over 30 meat-free ingredients available to them.
"We definitely knew that we would hear from our fans on some of the things that we removed, but we knew we had to do it to make sure our team members were having the best experience," said Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's global chief food innovation officer.
Starting March 11, customers will be able to order the Spicy Potato Soft Taco and Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes for the first time since their departure in September. The potato filling of the soft taco was popular with meat-free customers.
Matthews said the chain is planning new menu items that use those potatoes. For the customers holding onto hope that items like the Nachos Supreme will return, the chain is not planning on bringing back any other items at this time.
In another appeal to vegetarian customers, Taco Bell plans to test an item made with a Beyond Meat vegetarian substitute this year. For now, Taco Bell is staying tight-lipped on how it will be used.
"I would say that it's going to be unique to the things that you've seen elsewhere, so we're definitely going to put our Taco Bell innovation and spin on it," Matthews said.
In 2019, as the plant-based meat trend was taking over, then-North American operations chief Julie Felss Masino told CNBC that the chain had met with Beyond and its rival Impossible Foods but decided to stick to its own vegetarian options. Masino is now president of Taco Bell International.
"Taco Bell is a brand that we don't want to do what everyone else is doing," Matthews said. "We want to do it in our own unique way."
In another reflection of Taco Bell's unique branding, the chain announced the menu changes on Twitter with a video of its CEO Mark King appearing as a potato, using what seems to be a TikTok green screen filter. The tweet garnered thousands of likes in less than two hours after it was posted.
Yum is expected to present its fourth-quarter results on Feb. 4, which would include the impact of Taco Bell's menu cuts for the first time. In the burrito's chain's third quarter, it reported same-store sales growth of 3%.
Shares of Yum have risen 7% over the last year, giving it a market value of more than $32 billion. Its U.S. restaurants, which include KFC and Pizza Hut, have seen their same-store sales return to growth, but international locations remained under pressure in the third quarter.