Real Mexicans Don’t Eat at Taco Bell

Discussion
Sep 05, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Taco Bell has an image problem. It is a fast food chain selling Mexican (inspired?) food, but Hispanics aren’t buying it – literally.


The chain has done well lately with same-store sales growing seven percent last year but, of that, only half a percentage point came from Latino customers.


Some believe Taco Bell’s problems lie with its advertising and others simply see the issue as being the chain’s menu offerings.


To deal with its issues, Taco Bell is considering more authentic Mexican dishes, such as carnitas, while running more commercials on Spanish language television.


Everett Hernandez, senior VP-general manager, diversity for Synovate, told AdAge.com that the issue is Taco Bell’s menu. “It’s not really Mexican food or food that unacculturated Hispanics know from their home country. It’s a new offering to them.”


Translating taglines is also an issue for the chain. The company’s current “Think Outside the Bun,” doesn’t translate well into Spanish. Instead, the chain uses “No solo de pan vive el hombre” (“man does not live by bread alone”) in its Spanish-language ads.


“If they want to broaden their Hispanic market … their issue is authenticity, and they have a lot of years of not being perceived as authentic to break through,” said Carl Kravetz, chairman-chief strategic officer of the ad agency Cruz/Kravetz: Ideas.


Discussion Questions: Should Taco Bell even attempt to attract a larger Hispanic customer base? What issues have worked against it so far?

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17 Comments on "Real Mexicans Don’t Eat at Taco Bell"


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Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
14 years 6 months ago

Absolutely not. Does McDonald’s sell authentic hamburgers? It is about their American core consumer who wants a fast cheeseburger in a new and different way. Taco Bell has addressed their two biggest voids. Getting full on Taco Bell food and eating Taco Bell food while driving. They also keep the menu fresh with new items.

If Taco Bell wants to capture the authentic Mexican — not Hispanic — share, they should open an entirely new concept called Taco Cassera. I will say some of Taco Bell’s new recipes do have an authentic origin flavor profile.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Taco Bell’s authenticity? It’s amazing the word “authenticity” can be used adjacent to the words “Taco Bell.” Does Pizza Hut’s management worry about how its authenticity compares to food in Milan? Do people in Kentucky make chicken like Colonel Sanders? Would people in China embrace Asian Chao as resembling anything mother used to make? The fast food business is based on taste, speed, and price. Authenticity’s not even an also-ran.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

As a pre-Lipitor fan of carnitas, I can only shudder to think what they would look like if delivered by Taco Bell. The company’s best bet — wait and try to attract second and third generation acculturated Mexican-Americans. Once again there is no such thing as a “Hispanic” consumer per se, but if there were such a consumer, I’d say it’s safe to bet Taco Bell will always lose trying to serve native and first generation Mexicans, Central and South Americans and Puerto Ricans. Let’s remember there are lots of separate regional cuisines just in Mexico, not to mention the rest of what is loosely referred to as the Hispanic world. If authenticity is the key, there’s just too much diversity there to address effectively.

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
Taco Bell and Domino’s Pizza feel the same to me in that they do not represent the “real” meal that those that grew up on that food remember or desire. On a related note…I consider myself a Buffalo chicken wing connoisseur (can those even be said in the same sentence???) and was shocked that on a recent visit to my alma mater – The University of Buffalo, that there was a Hooter’s about a mile from the campus. Surely of all places where that would fail…Buffalo would be the one! My 15 year old son reminded me that not everyone is as serious about the wings as I am and perhaps the clientele was really not there for the food. In a sign that I must be getting old…it actually did not occur to me! Should Taco Bell pursue the Mexican market (and I disagree with calling it the Hispanic market in this instance…not all Hispanics are Mexicans and there in lies part of the problem…just because one has a Spanish surname does not mean… Read more »
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
14 years 6 months ago

I give Taco Bell lots of credit for being innovative with new products and product/package solutions. In the USA, Food Service accounts for about $500,000,000 annually. That means there is lots of room for growth by simply taking some one else’s share. They know their fare is not traditional Mexican fare. And my guess is that they could create some more “traditional” fare if they put their minds to it.

Recognizing the growth of this ethnic group would suggest it would be a good opportunity, but it needs to come from their strategy and they need to execute against the strategy.

I remember working at a large multinational Fortune 100 food company 15 years ago and they put together a strategy to go after the Hispanic market… and I think they are still trying to figure it out. If you want to go after new markets, you need a strategy and you need to execute.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

I agree with comments above. Every chain should have this “problem” of 7% gains. Do pizzerias worry about how many Italians they attract? Do Thai restaurants worry? They should just take a deep breath and try to find something else to worry about. Hey, if business is good, and you’re meeting the needs of the market, just keep on keepin’ on.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Old El Paso has the same issue with authenticity and has never really overcome it, even when offering a more “authentic or traditional version” of Mexican foods. Taco Bell is fast food based on Mexican flavors, ingredients and delivery systems. Primary in importance is that the tortilla offers an alternative to breads as a convenient hand-held delivery system. Second is the flavor variety provided by the Mexican themed offerings. As others have said, “authenticity doesn’t even make the list.”

Should Taco Bell try to be authentic to Hispanics? Sure. They should be authentic American fast food to third generation acculturated Hispanics of all geographic backgrounds. Then whether the food is “Mexican” or Cuban or Spanish won’t matter at all.

Robert Sweeney
Guest
Robert Sweeney
14 years 6 months ago

I’ve seen my share of companies who want to be all things to all people – and wind up diluting their offering. If Taco Bell were to add “authentic” menu items, such items would first and primarily need to appeal to their current, mainstream audience. Then, if they pick up first generation Hispanics, it is “gravy” so to say. Thus, it becomes a question of whether the mainstream market’s taste perceptions would match those of less acculturated Mexicans or any other Hispanic they desire to reach.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Did Taco Bell ever claim to be selling to the Hispanic or Mexican market? I don’t think so and they have continued to do well and have done well in same store sales over the past year. Introducing new products and continuing to be a low priced alternative to burgers and chicken sandwiches is working for them. Should they add more “authentic” Mexican dishes? Continuing to expand their market creating the “Taco Bell” version of products has been successful in the past and I would encourage them to continue. Should they make their food more authentic? No one assumes that Taco Bell food is authentic, do they?

Becoming an authentic purveyor of Mexican food would be a drastic switch from their current image and this kind of change of image is extremely expensive. Are young Hispanics current consumers of Taco Bell? In what numbers? Without knowing that information, advocating an expensive switch can’t be suggested with any real authority.

Quincy Chippe
Guest
Quincy Chippe
14 years 6 months ago

I just returned from a quick lunch at Taco Bell. I’m not sure how Taco Bell could have attracted more Mexicans. Out of the 25+ people in the shop, I was the only non-Hispanic, including staff. If fact, most of the people in the shop at that time, including staff, were speaking Spanish. And this is not the first time I found myself in that situation. This may be unique to the chain, since we are in Central California.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 6 months ago

Does Taco Bell really have an image problem? Does Olive Garden measure whether or not Italian-Americans are eating in their Italian restaurant? Or is this really a concern about what is becoming the largest group of minority spenders?

According to a study done by the University of Georgia, in 2007 Hispanics as a group will outpace blacks as the most powerful minority consumers in the United States. They are projected to spend $863.1 billion in 2007. Significant dollars.

If this is about marketing to a large group of potential customers, then it is a marketing issue. But NOT an image issue. Every business looks at who its customer is and then tries to expand their market. Taco Bell will do the same.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 6 months ago

“Chopped Suey,” “chow mein,” and fortune cookies were invented in the U.S. by Caucasians. Burritos and nachos were also invented here. We are kidding ourselves if we think that Taco Bell offers authentic Mexican food. They don’t and don’t claim to. It’s Taco Bell food, and I happen to like it. Just as I enjoy real Mexican dishes when I can find them. Anyone who believes we need to explain our dining preferences is as misdirected as a wine snob. Instead, ask these critics to spend their valuable time ascertaining why various women select their men, and vice versa. We’d all like to know that formula.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
14 years 6 months ago

GASP! You mean Taco Bell isn’t authentic Mexican cuisine???

The “Hispanic” customer clearly isn’t their core base. I think if they try to tinker with the menu too much they could end up driving off their devoted customers who have brought them that 7% sales growth! Taco Bell, leave the menu alone!

Terry Soto
Guest
Terry Soto
14 years 6 months ago
Whether Taco Bell continues to increase same store sales IS a dependent on their ability to address culture; generational culture. By and large, Taco Bell appeals to the youth market; teens and tweens; the millennials. Unless we are talking about a youth study, Synovate surveys 18+, and if it’s a Hispanic study, they typically survey in Spanish. Millennials are the most diverse generational group in history and many are Hispanic, but these kids are primarily speaking English. They are the young children of immigrants, who while on the one hand love their traditional foods they also love, enjoy and hang out in restaurants that cool and affordable to their peer group. So the key here is to understand that the mindset of their core customer set is becoming more multicultural and then define how that translates into decor, ambiance, food, prices, speed and their messaging within the context of their existing business model. I for one think that while the Hispanic market is a growth opportunity, it is not always about pursuing them in the… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 6 months ago

I agree with Terry. This is about youth marketing and including the Latino youth in the mix. If one were to segment the Latino consumer base, there would be those that are looking for traditional tastes and messages and those that are not. There is certainly an opportunity to speak to young Latinos and attract them to the brand for at least some meal opportunities (e.g. the fourth meal, for example). There doesn’t seem to be a strategy beyond Spanish language adaptation. This is where they are missing the boat. The strategy isn’t aligned with the opportunity of Latino youth marketing. If they choose to spend money on the Latino consumer they should spend that money with more strategic integrity.

Tom Bales
Guest
Tom Bales
14 years 6 months ago
I think it’s already been said by most of the people posting, but I’ll poke my $0.02 worth in anyway. Taco Bell needs to lose the whole “South Of The Border” attempt to portray its food as Mexican or otherwise Hispanic. It’s not, and unless they change to totally authentic Mexican fare, they’re never going to reach the Hispanic market to the extent they’d like. My friends (the majority of which are Mexican and Mexican/American) and I have been laughing at them for years as they tried to play this particular card and failed miserably at it. Their food is OK in itself as far as fast food goes but it’s simply not authentic Mexican food. They need to either shift the image into a unique niche of their own that attempts to appeal to a general clientele or take a look at some authentic Mexican fast food places (taco stands, etc.) and see how to really play the game. As it stands now, If I want real Mexican food and am in a hurry… Read more »
John Franco
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

If Taco Bell feels that the time has come to consider the Hispanic market a serious goal (and it probably is), then they should address it with a new restaurant chain, a la Wendy’s and Baja Fresh. Taco Bell is, and will always be, Hispanic-themed (using the term loosely!) food that attracts customers with convenience and familiarity. To lose that market would be a shame. As others have said, Olive Garden and Pizza Hut don’t care about how Italian their customer base is; they only care about how large it is.

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