Taco Bell is rolling out a Cool Ranch version of Doritos Locos Tacos.(Photo: Taco Bell)
Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
There's just one way to top the launch of the most successful new product of 2012: Do it again in 2013.
That's what Taco Bell will try to do early next month, when it rolls out Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos.
Its predecessor, nacho-cheese-flavored Doritos Locos Taco, sold more than 350 million in less than a year - making it the company's most successful-ever product, and one of the biggest in fast food history, even though they cost 30 cents to 40 cents more than Taco Bell's regular taco.
"You'll have to be hiding under a rock to not know about Cool Ranch," Greg Creed, CEO of Taco Bell, said in a phone interview. The marketing campaign behind Cool Ranch will even top it's previous biggest-ever, that of the nacho cheese version. Also, today, Taco Bell's 10 million Facebook fans will get word of the planned March 7 roll-out.
In a tough economy, the near $200 billion fast-food industry has been in a terrific dog-fight for market share the past several years. McDonald's has mostly taken the spoils, but that may be changing. Taco Bell is owned by Yum Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut.
More than anything else, a new product with zippy taste and marketing pizzazz can win the day. That appears to be the case with the Doritos Locos Tacos line.
But success isn't in the bag.
Product extensions are rarely as successful as the products they mimic, warns Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at the research firm, Mintel. What's more, she says, the flavor profile isn't quite the "natural" that regular nacho cheese Doritos are when paired with tacos.
Even then, she says, Taco Bell has unique insight into the eating habits -- and lifestyles -- of its core customers. "They like flavor," she says. Cool Ranch Doritos sales rank second only to original Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos.
Restaurant industry consultant Ron Paul, president of the research firm Technomic, says the line has already become a mega-franchise -- with just one product. "It's as big a deal as the Whopper is for Burger King or the Big Mac is for McDonald's," he says.
Even though the nacho version didn't roll out until March, Taco Bell's same store sales jumped 8% last year -- far ahead of most other major fast food chains.
Sales were so big, in fact, that Taco Bell added 15,000 restaurant jobs in 2012, says Creed. And partner PepsiCo, maker of Doritos, had to add lines at its factories to meet demand.
Social media has been on fire with buzz about the new line. Taco Bell originally planned to roll it out late last year, but, Creed says, it was so overwhelmed by the success of the nacho flavor, it couldn't handle a second roll-out.
One thing's for sure: There will more.
There are 123 Doritos flavors currently sold around the world, says Creed.
Plans are for a Doritos Flamas-flavored taco shell -- a spicier flavor popular in Hispanic markets -- later this year, says Creed. "We are only limited by our imagination," he says.
Which may explain what Creed dubs, the "Taco Bell-ish" tag-line that will be part of the national ad campaign, once Cool Ranch joins the Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos Locos Tacos: "Collect all two."