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Taco Bell takes advantage of beef lawsuit

January 29, 2011|By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times

The quality of Taco Bell's beef may have been called into question, but the company's sense of humor hasn't.

Fighting back against a lawsuit that alleges the company's beef isn't very meaty, the Irvine-based Mexican fast food chain launched a massive marketing campaign Friday that includes full-page newspaper ads that declare, "Thank you for suing us."

The ads in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and other papers is part of an aggressive effort to set the record straight, according to company officials.

"Plain ground beef tastes boring," the ad states. "The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. Otherwise we'd end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn't make for great-tasting tacos."

But there's also a very serious tone to the company's PR counter-offensive, which includes information on its Facebook page and a YouTube video of Taco Bell President Greg Creed insisting that the meat mix is "88% beef and 12% secret recipe."

The company — a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc. — is threatening to countersue the plaintiff, Amanda Obney, and the two law firms behind the consumer rights class-action suit filed Jan. 19 at the federal court in Santa Ana.

The complaint alleges that tests of the chain's beef filling found only 35% actual beef; the remainder was preservatives, extenders and additives. The complaint claims that Taco Bell is falsely advertising its product and wants the court to order the company to stop calling its meat mixture "beef."

"Taco meat filling is not beef," according to the complaint. "In fact, it does not meet the minimum standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture to be labeled or advertised as 'beef,' seasoned or otherwise."

Taco Bell officials, who have denied the allegations, were quick to fight back. Creed, in the YouTube video, says its beef is "100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home."

He goes on to explain that the 12% secret ingredients include 3% water and 4% "Mexican spices and flavors." The last 5%, Creed says, is a combination of caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid and "other ingredients."

On its website, the company has posted a statement and a full list of ingredients, which include soy lecithin, sodium phosphates and isolated oat product.

Even Creed seemed a bit unsure Friday why that last item was used. When ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Creed about the ingredient on "Good Morning America," the executive said that he wasn't a food scientist but that every ingredient was "in there for a purpose."

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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