Taco Bell starts focusing on health
NEW YORK (AP) -- Taco Bell isn't putting down the chalupa just yet, but it wants to start shedding its reputation as a purveyor of junk food.
The chain announced Wednesday that it's exploring ways to offer more "balanced choices," marking just the latest sign that the fast-food industry is trying to adapt to changing tastes and upend the conventional wisdom that it only offers caloric indulgences.
In a call with reporters, CEO Greg Creed said Taco Bell is testing a "range of products" this year, with national launches planned for 2014. He also said existing menu items could also be reformulated but noted that the chain would remain true to its brand.
"We're not going to walk away from who Taco Bell is," Creed said.
By 2020, Taco Bell says 20 percent of its combo meals will meet nutritional guidelines for calories and fat set out by the federal government. That means a single meal would have about a third of the recommended intake of about 2,000 to 2,500 calories. The company did not immediately know what portion of meals currently meet those guidelines.
The announcement is likely to be met with skepticism in some corners, considering that Taco Bell is known for urging people to eat nachos as a "fourth meal" late at night. But it shows just how much pressure the broader industry is under to recast its greasy-food image as people increasingly seek out options they feel are healthier.
A report by the Hudson Institute earlier this year found that lower-calorie options were a key indicator of growth at restaurant chains between 2006 and 2011. While chains that expanded such options saw customer traffic rise by 11 percent, those that didn't saw traffic fall by 15 percent, according to the public policy research group.
As customer "tastes and needs" evolve, Creed said that offering more balanced choices would be critical in helping Taco Bell reach its growth targets over the next decade.
As such, he said product developers have been given "nutrition guardrails" they need to stay within.
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