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Taco Bell trying 'First Meal' breakfast and fresh 'Cantina' menus

The Irvine-based fast-food chain, which struggled last year, is hoping for a turnaround with breakfast items as well as tests of healthier fare to compete with more upscale rivals.

January 21, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

Taco Bell struggled last year but is now staking its hopes for a turnaround on new menu items, including a "First Meal" breakfast lineup as well as tests of more healthful fare to compete with more upscale rivals.

The Irvine-based fast-food chain, which serves mostly Mexican-style meals, will roll out an 11-item roundup of "classic American" breakfast options next week in 750 restaurants in 10 states, including California.

The First Meal lineup will include Cinnabon Delights, breakfast burritos, Johnsonville sausage and egg wraps, Tropicana orange juice and Seattle's Best Coffee.

The breakfast launch is part of Taco Bell's recovery regimen after its sales tanked following a quickly dismissed lawsuit that questioned the quality of its seasoned ground beef. Taco Bell's parent, Yum Brands Inc., said the chain's same-store sales fell 2% in the third quarter after sliding 5% in the second quarter.

"This is not an acceptable result for us," said David C. Novak, Yum's chief executive, in a conference call with analysts. "The team is working incredibly hard to get Taco Bell back on a growth track."

The chain is also trying to catch up to competitors such as McDonald's and Wendy's that have already taken advantage of growing demand for the first meal of the day. Consumers are increasingly swinging by restaurants to pick up breakfast, according to research group Technomic. At quick-service eateries, morning menus account for 92% of overall traffic growth in the last five years.

Taco Bell is branching out in other directions too. There's the Doritos Locos Tacos — with a shell made from the popular chips — that Taco Bell plans to launch nationally in a bid to "reinvent the taco."

The chain is also testing a "Cantina Bell" menu at select restaurants, including in Bakersfield, that could position it as a stronger competitor to fast-casual Mexican chains. These more health-minded offerings, designed in part by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, will feature grilled corn salsa, black beans, marinated chicken and other items.

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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