Taco Bell’s effort to reposition upscale in response to Chipotle has gotten a fair amount of coverage here at Slate. But the company isn’t forgetting the downmarket niche either. Fans of the Doritos Locos Tacos concept who happen to prefer Cool Ranch Doritos, for example, will be getting Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos Locos starting on March 7.
The success of the Doritos Locos line is exactly why I think Cantina Bell will never work. It’s just hard for a company to change its stripes, and what successful companies do is generally to focus on what they do best. The original Doritos Locos was an inspired product given Taco Bell’s existing market niche, melding a beloved junky snack food into its existing lineup of junky snacky items, and Cool Ranch Doritos Locos is a logical extension of the concept. But it’s just very difficult to simultaneously be the place people think of when they’re thinking “I wish I could have a hard-shell taco with the shell made out of Doritos” and the place where people think “I wish chef Lorena Garcia would whip up some fresh flavors out of high-quality ingredients.”
This is one of the reasons why Demolition Man’s vision of a future in which all restaurants are Taco Bell doesn’t make sense. Even if there was only one restaurant holding company, it would still make sense to differentiate brands that can each have their own coherent identity. That’s why Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell are all separate concepts even though they’re all owned by Yum! Brands. Even when real estate considerations dictate sharing physical space, Yum tries its best to maintain some kind of conceptual separation between the brands.