Chicken innovation a focus for Taco Bell in 2024

The brand has already added chicken nuggets, chicken empanadas and a Chicken Cantina menu.

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Taco Bell Cheesy Chicken Crispanada
Taco Bell

Taco Bell plans to announce a new menu item every five weeks in 2024, beginning with the launch of the Chicken Cantina, chicken nuggets and a chicken empanada in February.

The Chicken Cantina menu features five new items: a Cantina Chicken burrito, Cantina Chicken soft taco, Cantina chicken crispy taco, Cantina chicken quesadilla and Cantina chicken bowl. All Chicken Cantina items include oven-roasted, shredded chicken seasoned with spices such as pasilla and other chilies.

Also hitting menus in 2024 is something unusual for a Tex-Mex themed quick service restaurant (QSR), chicken nuggets.

The QSR started trialing chicken nuggets on menus back in October 2023. At the time, Taco Bell chef Brett Puskalowski made headlines when he bragged that the nuggets were “real white meat chicken,” adding that “when you go to McDonald's, that's not what you see.”

The new Crispy Chicken Nuggets are made of all-white, whole muscle chicken breast, marinated in spiced jalapeño buttermilk and then breaded.

Rounding out the new chicken offerings is the Crispy Chicken Empanada, which features chicken slow cooked with garlic, tomato and onion, as well as Monterey pepper jack, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses inside a crisped pastry dough.

I’ve written before about my love of empanadas, so I had to give these a try. It took a few minutes for my order to be cool enough to eat, but it was delicious. I was initially skeptical about the ranch sauce served alongside the empanada, but it was a perfect complement to the spices inside. I’d definitely order it again.

Why chicken?

The new chicken items are designed to attract more consumers during the lunchtime dayparts, as well as a bid to reach younger consumers.

“We know you guys love us for late-night. We want you to love us for more than just late-night,” Taco Bell CMO Taylor Montgomery announced at the Live Más Live event that occurred right before the Super Bowl.

Back in 2022, Taco Bell CEO Mark King told investors to expect more chicken innovation on menus as a part of a quest to attract more Generation Z consumers. (Generation Z apparently loves chicken. KFC, also owned by Yum! Brands, gave similar reasoning for the launch of its chicken nuggets in 2022.)

Personally, I’m so glad to see another brand making chicken a focus of menus!

In other chicken foodservice news:

·        Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is now the number three player in quick-service restaurant wings. The QSR began testing chicken wings early last year, permanently adding the menu item in November 2023.

·          Chicken sandwiches led to a same-store sale increase of 18.3% for Wingstop in 2023. The company expects similar gains this year,  “There’s 2.4 billion chicken sandwich occasions in the U.S. annually,” CEO Michael Skipworth told investors. “So, we think we’re just scratching the surface there.”

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