IRVINE — Taco Bell is putting a line of heftier, spicier tacos on its menu and is backing the introduction with a $60-million-plus promotional campaign featuring its talking Chihuahua.
The chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants introduced three types of gorditas--Spanish for "little fat ones" and a term of endearment in Mexico--at area restaurants on Wednesday.
They consist of a soft, grilled Mexican flatbread, which is filled with ground beef, chicken or steak, and topped with ingredients such as smoked chipotle peppers, sour cream, tomatoes and cilantro.
"Just as the Big Mac was the signature hamburger for McDonald's and the Whopper was the signature for Burger King, Gorditas will be our signature taco," said Vada Hill, chief marketing officer for Taco Bell Corp.
The new items are being introduced to address concerns identified by Taco Bell customers in focus groups: they want food that is more filling and spicier, Hill said.
Taco Bell's gorditas were developed during the past two years and tested in restaurants in Tucson and Denver, where sales rose by more than 10% without cannibalizing sales of its hard and soft tacos.
"We expect these to do at least as well as our traditional hard-shell tacos, which account for 12% of our total sales," Hill said.
Gorditas weigh 5.2 ounces and contain 270 to 370 calories compared with the roughly 3 ounces and 180 to 290 calories of its regular tacos. They will sell for 99 cents, compared with regular tacos that range from 59 cents to 89 cents, depending on toppings.
A combo meal of two gorditas and a regular taco with a drink will be available for $3.49.
Fifteen-second teaser commercials from TBWA / Chiat Day that began airing this week show the Taco Bell spokesdog spotting a banner that says a "revolutionary taco" will be coming soon.
An ad slated to premiere on the Fox, NBC and ABC networks on Monday shows a crowd gathered in a square with banners showing an upraised arm with a gordita. The Chihuahua steps up to a microphone and says "Viva Gorditas," sending the crowd into a frenzy of applause.
Taco Bell plans a summer promotion tied to the release of the movie "Godzilla" in May.
Taco Bell has about 7,000 stores in the United States. Its sales at stores open a year or more rose 2% last year after declines in each of the two previous years.
Times staff writer Russ Stanton contributed to this report.