In 2018, Taco Bell was, by most definitions, the crown jewel of YUM!’s performance. It closed the third quarter of fiscal 2018—the chain’s most recent report— with an 8 percent increase in system-wide sales and same-store sales growth of 5 percent, year-over-year. The brand opened 59 new units in the quarter and enjoyed a series of headline-grabbing launches, especially the Nacho Fries, which executives said was the most successful LTO in company history (which is saying a lot). More than 53 million orders were placed during the original run from late January to April.
There were 6,942 Taco Bells at the end of Q3, up from 6,738 in the prior-year period. The growth represented a 3 percent change, year-over-year. Twenty-two international restaurants (gross) opened in Q3 as well, hinting at another wide-open opportunity for the brand. Just this November, Taco Bell debuted in London. Three more are expected in the coming months, joining Taco Bell’s 28 other U.K. restaurants. Domestically, Taco Bell is aggressively growing its Cantina brand, complete with alcohol, in New York City. Since 2015, Taco Bell has opened 19 Cantina restaurants and 16 Urban In-Line Concepts throughout the country. With the opening of the new spots, New York City will be home to three Urban In-Line locations and three Cantinas. “The research we’ve done in New York tells us that our fans want an experience that parallels their lifestyle—fast and at their fingertips,” Mike Grams, general manager of North America and global, said at the time.
Toward the end of 2018, Taco Bell unveiled its new, unified value menu called the “Cravings Value Menu” to replace its previous dollar menu. The offerings now range from $1 to $5, hitting on two of the most-buzzed about price points in fast food. So instead of owning the dollar space, Taco Bell is hoping to reign over both categories. Or at least have strong footing across each occasion and customer preference. Last year, Taco Bell said it would expand its $1 offerings by another 20 items, accelerating a trend in its menu history. The brand offered 11 items for $1 in 2014 and more than doubled that by 2018. It surpassed that 2018 goal and launched the Cravings Value Menu with a $1 Grande Burrito in two varieties—Chicken Enchilada and Three Cheese Nacho. The menu is divided into four categories: Specialties, Sweets, Tacos & Burritos, and $5 Boxes. Taco Bell said it would continue to add items over the course of 2019.
Below is a look into the trippy campaign that has accompanied the new launch.
On the technology front, Taco Bell started 2018 with an “All Access” initiative it said would provide frictionless digital experiences for customers and employees. This includes self-serve kiosks, faster networks, and further investments into restaurant technology. Not to be forgotten: YUM’s $200 million stake in GrubHub, announced in February. In October, YUM! said the integrated delivery solution was launched in 2,100 stores nationwide, covering about 30 percent of the U.S. market (this includes KFC). Taco Bell offered delivery in more than 1,000 restaurants across 50 markets at the start of the 2018.