Having been in refresh mode for more than year, Del Taco is ready to enter the final phase of a major brand upgrade that has so far included new store and branding designs, as well as operational tweaks at the corporate office.

This week, the Lake Forest, California­–based brand launched two new menus, Buck & Under and New Tastes, and a promotional campaign, “UnFreshing Believable,” that focus on Del Taco’s low price points and fresh ingredients.

Paul Murphy, CEO of Del Taco, says he hopes this last redevelopment phase demonstrates to loyal and new customers alike that, despite the value prices, Del Taco is still committed to quality ingredients and preparation methods.

“In our research over the past year, as we have met with frequent users, we start talking about the menu and they start talking about the great prices, then we introduce them to how this food is prepared, the ingredients we’re using,” Murphy says.

“They’re the ones who say, ‘Hey, you need to get out there and talk about this.’ They find that it’s unbelievable that we’re willing to go to those lengths to prepare products like that, yet charge the prices we charge.”

The “UnFreshing Believable” advertising campaign is Del Taco’s attempt to get the word out. Developed by the company’s new ad agency, San Francisco-based Camp + King, “UnFreshing Believable” includes TV and radio spots, packaging, POP, social media, and digital advertising that highlight the idea that customers can get fresh food for a lower price point at Del Taco.

The Buck & Under and New Tastes menus help underscore that message. The Buck & Under menu features 11 items between 50 cents and $1, including a Mini Cheddar Quesadilla, Value Bean & Cheese Burrito, Grilled Chicken Taco, and ½-Pound Bean & Cheese Burritos. New Tastes hosts three items—a Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Taco, Chili Cheese Fry Burrito, and Fiery 6 Layer Burrito to start—that will rotate seasonally and be in the $1–2 range.

John Cappasola, Del Taco’s executive vice president and chief brand officer, says the Buck & Under menu differentiates Del Taco from competitors with dollar menus. The New Tastes menu, meanwhile, offers menu options that are “exciting and fun,” Cappasola says.

“It is a living, breathing new section of the menu that customers can really get excited about,” he says. “Many core users are trying new flavors from multiple brands, and they’re seeking these new flavors and tastes to mix it up a bit. This section is designed to address that, and is designed to be rotated on a regular basis based on customer demand.”

Cappasola adds that as Del Taco promotes the new menus, it will continue to focus on its core strengths so that the brand doesn’t alienate existing customers.

“We’ve said from day one, that is not our goal here,” he says. “Our goal is to continue to deliver the great things that customers love about us today, because we have a very loyal base of fans and folks that love the brand for what it does on the core menu. But we need to continue to do those things very well, and even make those things better than they are today.”

Del Taco’s brand refresh initially launched in late 2011, when it committed to a management reorganization that realigned company and franchise operations under a newly created senior vice president of operations support and engagement role. The reorganization also updated operational processes and procedures, including in training and customer-service development.

Further, Del Taco’s 2011 commitment updated the store design for the first time in 20 years. The new design uses more contemporary colors and visual “freshness cues” in the interior and exterior, while the brand logo was also modernized.

“Some of our stores were kind of older and tired looking,” Murphy says. “We realized we needed to modernize it and make it a little more comfortable, while at the same time addressing our operational consistency out there and experience that we’re delivering, certainly both on the service end and on the product end.”

Murphy says 50–60 percent of the 550-plus-unit chain’s restaurants have upgraded to the new store design, and that he expects the process to be completed by the end of 2013.

Even though this latest brand refresh will also come to a close at that time, Murphy says, Del Taco will continue to evolve and innovate to compete in the fast-growing Mexican quick-service category.

“I don’t want to kid anybody; we’re not perfect yet. It’s about continuous improvement, especially on the operations side,” he says. “But we’re excited about the progress. We’ve seen it’s made an impact on the business and we believe that the progress in those two areas now enables us to be believable and credible as we move into the menu and the messaging and talking about what is really different about Del Taco, rather than just being known for being a value brand.”

By Sam Oches

Growth, Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, News, Restaurant Operations, Del Taco