After Yadav Enterprises completed its $85 million purchase of Taco Cabana, one of the initial priorities was emphasizing the brand's Tex-Mex heritage.
That starts with the menu. In the past year, the fast casual has released a host of new and refreshed items to reenergize existing customers and attract new guests. On December 19, Taco Cabana will close 2022 with what should be one of their strongest pieces of innovation—the Double Crunch Pizza. It features two tortillas mixed with corn and flour, layered with ground beef, refried beans, chipotle ranch dressing, Monterey Jack & cheddar cheese, and topped with pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and sour cream.
The item started with a small seven-unit test in outskirt markets between San Antonio and Austin. After initial feedback from operations and consumers, it moved into larger, metro areas in Texas. Now, the product is ready for Taco Cabana's entire 140-unit footprint in the Lone Star State. The item will sell for $4.99. And in Q1, the Double Crunch Pizza will serve as the anchor meal for a new "under $5" value menu as customers continue to wrestle with inflation.
QSR recently spoke with Taco Cabana COO Ulyses Camacho to learn more about the Double Crunch Pizza and how it came to be.
How did Taco Cabana arrive at adding pizza to its menu?
Basically our research and development team, they've been working on a Double Crunch for quite some time. I would say they started working around when the pandemic started and it was until last year. And it was driven by our guest requests that we decided to start thinking about testing it and that's what we did probably about six months ago. We put them in a full-blown market test probably about six months ago.
Can you describe the approach the menu innovation team took when formulating this pizza?
Just to give you some background and a little bit more context. Here in Taco Cabana, we gather a lot of feedback. It starts with our employees, but obviously with our guests too. And when it comes to our guests feedback, suggestions, comments, we get it from multiple venues—we get it from the loyalty members, we get it from in-store visits, and we get it through external research. So basically we gather any type of comments and feedback—anything that they would like to see, anything that they're seeing from the competition. So we basically sit down, gather, consolidate all the data, and then the next step is sitting down with our research and development team.
And how we get to this specific product is based on the guest requests. We knew we wanted to come out with something simple because of the world that we live in right now has to do with simplification. We knew that we needed to use our existing core items to come together with this product because of the optimization. We needed to come out with something of a great value, something that was craveable and something that was portable. Part of the reason is because most of our business is the drive-thru. This particular product has core items that we serve, like the refried beans that we have that are made from scratch. So all this data, suggestions, feedback, and everything that I just told you put together the Double Crunch Pizza.
How well does it fit into back-of-house operations? Does it take much training to learn how to prepare?
First of all, the employees during the test, the line service, they had fun doing this product. And part of the reason is I would say 90 percent of the ingredients that you see in the Double Crunch are existing, current ingredients that we have in the main line just assembling it. We're introducing two new ingredients as part of it. One of them is this hybrid tortilla, which is a combination of flour and corn in a tortilla. That particular ingredient we do have to fry in-house, but there's no difference of what we do with our chips or our crispy tacos. So that's one extra step. But we are accustomed to frying in-house, so that was the beauty of that one. And the second ingredient is a a chipotle ranch dressing that we add inside the actual Double Crunch Pizza. So basically the rest, 90 percent of it, is just putting it together. But even packaging the product, it does come in a very easy-to-package box that we have. It wasn't much of a challenge for our workforce.
What was the initial feedback? Was anything tweaked or changed based off of that feedback?
The initial feedback from the operators in terms of execution was great. We did tweak a few things. For example, when it came to actually executing it, you have to have a balance in terms of ingredients and portions. So those minor tweaks, most of them were driven by the operations feedback until we got to this point. So it took about six months. Now from a guest perspective, we did notice the strong numbers based on our regular test. So the per day, per store, per unit numbers were strong and were significant. So we're really optimistic. The guest loves the idea, especially because it is going to be a value proposition, and they like the flavor because they're used to the flavor of our beans and our ground beef and our shredded cheese. So with great feedback from the guest, but also from operations and executing minor tweaks during the test, we can actually roll out in every single market starting on Monday.
What are the expectations for how the Double Crunch Pizza will perform, in terms of sales mix, and daypart usage?
These are two critical points. Ninety percent of our products, they are served all day, meaning from opening at 6 o'clock in the morning till closing between 10 p.m. or midnight or 2 o'clock in the morning. So it is going to be available, this particular Double Crunch Pizza, from opening to close, meaning you can go at 9 o'clock in the morning and get a Double Crunch Pizza. So we do expect to have an impact on every daypart. Obviously the peak hours are going to be the drivers. In terms of how we're going to position it and the expectations, starting Monday December 19, we're planning to go full-blown promotion, inclusive of social media, digital, TV, and loyalty program. So we're taking this one very, very seriously.
In the future, will there be opportunities for innovation around the Double Crunch Pizza?
It took quite some time to get to this point. We'll launch this officially in every single market. As I mentioned before, we’ve got our guest services department on high alert to receive all the data of the customer feedback. The beauty of this though, is all the ingredients that we have. The other opportunity here is in terms of ideation—we don't handle only ground beef as a protein. We got any number of different proteins, including chicken. I think it's the same way that we got to this point based on customer request, based on transactions, based on numbers per day, per store. If the volume is there, if it's accepted, why not? I mean why not sit down with the research and development and say, ‘OK, it is a success.’ The other part of it is the actual shell. The hybrid shell also, there's opportunities to use as an ingredient into the ideation of something else.