How Liz Matthews is Marrying Craveability and Responsible Dining at Taco Bell

    The chain's Chief Food Innovation Officer wants guests to feel great about their order, each and every time. 

    Liz Matthews.
    Taco Bell
    "With thousands of restaurants, we understand our responsibility to make a positive environmental impact," Matthews says.

    I may be biased, but I have one of the coolest jobs and greatest teams out there. I lead Taco Bell’s Food Innovation Team and the masterminds of our famous Test Kitchen. Whether you’re enjoying a limited time food offering or menu classic, my team plays an important role in bringing delicious food innovations to your plate.

    I grew up on Taco Bell and loved how I could access a whole menu of flavor with even just a dollar. But I actually went to California State University to study psychiatry. One semester I took a nutrition class. That was a pivotal moment where my interests shifted, and I ended up going to school for food science and nutrition. Later, I ended up in the manufacturing space. I knew I wanted to make my way back home to the LA area, and I found Taco Bell. For over two decades, I’ve been working to make sure our fans don’t have to choose between craveability and responsible dining. Everyone should feel great about their Taco Bell order, each and every time. 

    Throughout last year, in particular, my team and I were busy making good on our continued commitments to our fans. We’re always listening to them. In 2021, we tested or launched everything from the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco to the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell. We’re constantly developing unexpected menu items that everyone can enjoy, whether flexitarian or veggie-curious. 

    Not only do we want our food to be unique and craveable, but we also want it to feed people’s lives with good. We’re on this exciting path that we call our Food For All journey, where we constantly evolve our menu to make sure we’re offering food that fits each and every lifestyle. Over the years, we’ve done everything from reducing sodium and removing artificial colors to sourcing only cage-free eggs and chicken raised without human antibiotics.  

    I’m also proud of our work to leave a lighter footprint. With thousands of restaurants, we understand our responsibility to make a positive environmental impact. We made a global commitment to ensure all of our consumer-facing packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 … yes, all of it. We’ve launched a partnership with TerraCycle, we’re generating demand for unwanted recycled materials and we’re even repurposing used cooking oil in some restaurants. 

    We have lots more in the pipeline for the rest of 2022. 

    What was your first job? 

    I’m from Los Angeles originally, and I started out working in restaurants when I was young. Starting as a hostess, I continued to take on a variety of in-restaurant roles over the years and work my way up. 

    What’s your favorite menu item at Taco Bell? 

    I grew up on the Burrito Supreme and it will forever remain my personal favorite. 

    What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Taco Bell? 

    Super hard question as I love it all.  I would say behind Mexican it would have to be Japanese … sushi, Udon, Ramen, Soba. 

    Who inspires you as a leader? 

    Right now, it’s this next generation. I have inspiring teenagers and they are nothing like I was when I was a teen! Young people across the world are teaching us all so much about the past, the present and different ways of thinking about the future—the views are positive, optimistic and not sugar coated. They see real big opportunities for change and are working in small and big ways towards real solutions. They are creating such momentum for our future. 

    What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear? 

    Always listen and observe. I am not the consumer or a team member that works in the restaurant anymore. Your team members have so much insight to the business and have amazing ideas. The consumers, the ones who love you and even the ones who don’t, can lead you to amazing ideas. Often people can't express what they want when it comes to food, so I love to observe people eating and creating moments with food. It can be very insightful. 

    What are some of your interests outside of work? 

    Food is honestly a major part of my personal life, too; I remember my key life memories through the food I ate during them. So, I love to try new foods and restaurants, and LA offers just the best! I love spending time with my family and friends and being active outdoors.