Taco Bell: Reinventing the Great American Breakfast

On March 27, Taco Bell will unleash its new breakfast menu in all of its 5,500 locations nationwide. With the largest menu expansion in the company’s 50-year history, the Mexican-inspired fast food chain will take a direct shot at the $50 billion limited-service breakfast market that has long been dominated by McDonald’s. With a big digital marketing push, Taco Bell will wage war for this sacred territory by reinventing breakfast—and its consumable commander, the Waffle Taco, will lead the troops into battle.

An early opportunity

As the sixth largest fast food chain in America, Taco Bell has long been famous for its dinner options and more recently has become world-renowned for its late-night “Fourth Meal” concept. As a cheaper alternative to other fast food options, Taco Bell is especially attractive to price-sensitive consumers. Accordingly, the chain has grown a loyal customer base in the under-25 age segment and is often regarded as the favorite choice of the Millennial generation, thanks in no small part to its creative social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. The company will launch a digital campaign this week to engage its online audience before the menu debuts next month.

However, until recently, Taco Bell had no breakfast menu to speak of. According to Technomic’s Breakfast Consumer Trend report, breakfast is an especially price-sensitive meal. 57 percent of consumers who eat breakfast at home claim to do so in order to save money and 36 percent of consumers say it’s too expensive to buy breakfast from a chain. Naturally, Taco Bell’s affordable reputation provides an opportunity for the brand to move into the breakfast market.

An innovative angle

Despite its history of placing emphasis on value, Taco Bell understands that it can’t make a dent in the saturated fast-food breakfast market without product innovation and effective marketing. The market is currently dominated by classic American-style items like bagel and muffin sandwiches. For example, 20 percent of the breakfast market is owned by McDonald’s, whose menu is considered the status quo.

But this is precisely where Taco Bell President Brian Niccol sees opportunity. “When we look at the category,” he says, “we haven’t seen much besides me-too offerings” like Burger King’s breakfast menu—which isn’t so different from that of McDonald’s. “We’re going to reinvent breakfast,” Niccol insists, “We don’t use buns or burgers or circular things at breakfast—that’s not who we are.”

The entrée armada

At the same time, Niccol understands that American breakfast preferences can’t be turned upside down: “It’s gonna have bacon, eggs, and cheese. And it’s going to be done in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

Taco Bell began testing breakfast items across 800 stores in western states back in 2012. Results exceeded the company’s expectations. Now, the time has come to roll out a breakfast entrée armada across all its restaurants.

Without further ado, here’s the starting line-up:

(Not pictured: hash browns and the Flatbread Melt)

Taco Bell’s breakfast products are strategically portable. Created with the Millennial generation in mind, these items are designed to be consumable with one hand while leaving the other free to check Instagram.

Taco Bell intends for the A.M. Crunchwrap to go head-to-head with the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin as the chain’s staple breakfast item. According to Taco Bell CMO Chris Brandt, “The breakfast sandwich hasn’t changed in 40 years, and we think this breaks that paradigm.” Other products include the Breakfast Burrito, the A.M. Grilled Taco, co-branded Cinnabon Delights, and the much-anticipated Waffle Taco.

A worthy contribution

Taco Bell will rely on its digital marketing strategy to propel its new breakfast menu. Through its unique Mexican-inspired product innovations and continued emphasis on affordability, Taco Bell will reinvent the Great American Breakfast that has been defined for so long by generic egg sandwiches. Whatever your predetermined definition of breakfast is, get ready to replace it.

Where will you be on the morning of March 27? My guess is the Taco Bell drive-thru.