NEW YORK » Taco Bell is testing a new value menu that could put it in more direct competition with the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s.
The Mexican-fast-food chain is testing a "$1 Cravings Menu" in two markets that lists nine items, including three new offerings. If successful, it would replace the chain’s current value menu, called "Why Pay More," with items priced at 89 cents and 99 cents. The $2 "meal deals" on "Why Pay More" are not offered on the new menu.
Chris Brandt, vice president of marketing for Taco Bell, said the tests began in October in Fresno, Calif., and Knoxville, Tenn., and will continue for at least another couple of months before a decision is made on whether to roll out the menu more widely. He said the idea for "$1 Cravings" came about after consumer research showed diners felt like they were "forced to eat off the value menu," rather than wanting the items it offered. So Taco Bell decided to split the "$1 Cravings" menu into what it considers to be five universal cravings: beefy, cheesy, spicy, crunchy and sweet.
Although $1 seems like pocket change, it reflects a slight price hike for Taco Bell compared with the "Why Pay More" menu, which was introduced in 2008.
Wendy’s, based in Dublin, Ohio, also revamped its value menu recently, replacing its 99-cent menu with a "Right Size Right Price" menu that charges up to $1.99. Under the new model, Wendy’s has more flexibility in charging prices at a time when costs for ingredients like beef are climbing and squeezing profit margins. Last year McDonald’s introduced an "Extra Value Menu" with items closer to $2.
Taco Bell’s tinkering with the value menu comes amid a broader reinvention for the chain, which delivered strong results in the past year with the help of menu introductions such as Doritos Locos Tacos and higher-quality Cantina Bell burritos and bowls. In coming weeks, Taco Bell plans to begin marketing its "Happier Hour" featuring a menu of snacks like the recently introduced "Loaded Grillers."