For students looking for healthier options when dining at the K-State Student Union or in the city of Manhattan, Taco Bell may be delivering those options within a few years. Taco Bell has promised to make 20 percent of their combo meals meet nutritional protocol for calories and fat established by the federal government by the year 2020.
“Our goal is to be more relevant, so we listened to our customers and know that they want variety, balance and more choices,” said Rob Poetsch, Taco Bell spokesperson, in an e-mail interview. “We also understand that customers don’t like drastic change, and we will retain the menu items that they know and love.”
Part of Taco Bell’s initiative to offer healthier menu options is to change their “unhealthy” image. This could be a difficult process, said Wes Wise, assistant professor of advertising.
“It will be difficult to shed a well-established image built upon food that is viewed by many as less than healthy. Such a change will not happen overnight,” Wise said.
Additionally, Ric Rosenkranz, assistant professor in human nutrition, said that attempting to rid themselves of their negative image may not be a big enough step to significantly improve the restaurant.
Wise agreed, saying that Taco Bell will need a stronger plan to fend off their negative stereotype.
“The company cannot reverse direction by simply offering a few ‘healthy’ alternatives and expect to be taken seriously as a wholesome dining option,” Wise said.
Stefanie Urso, junior in family studies and human services, said she thinks that people’s attitudes about Taco Bell will not change just because they are introducing new items. It will be years before Taco Bell can shake their current image, Urso said.
While they can be known for unhealthy food, the combination of speed and price has been a profitable model, and Taco Bell has excellent methods for putting this model to use, Wise said.
“Tasty, cheap and available is a highly successful formula, and Taco Bell has practically perfected it,” Wise said.
It is the expense factor, and not necessarily health, that draws Matt Lynch, junior in business, to Taco Bell.
“I eat at Taco Bell because you can get a lot of food for a little price. The quantity outweighs the quality,” Lynch said.
Recently, Taco Bell introduced the new Cool Ranch Doritios Locos Taco. The tacos range from 160 calories to 200 calories. It is menu items like these that draw people to Taco Bell, Wise said.
“For many, if not most consumers, these items are top-of-mind when thinking about Taco Bell,” Wise said.
While Rosenkranz is not extremely optimistic about the ability of Taco Bell to shed their previous image, he does have advice.
“[They need] fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains. They do a decent job with their menu, for example, beans,” Rosenkranz said, adding that they should use “higher quality of meat like Chipotle does.”
The period of change could take awhile, Poetsch said, but will hopefully be a successful process.
“Change takes time; this is a journey for Taco Bell. We don’t have all the answers right now but are committed to finding the right balance for our customers and balancing great taste with better options,” Poetsch said.