Taco Bell will begin testing new entrees next month for its "Power Protein" menu, along with new zero-calorie beverages — both designed to appeal to nutrition-conscious diners.

The test, which is scheduled to begin July 25 at about 40 units in Dayton, Ohio, is the first in an ongoing strategy to round out Taco Bell’s often-indulgent menu with more healthful food options. Earlier this year, Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s chief executive, pledged to add more menu items that meet recommended daily nutrition guidelines.


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The Power Protein menu under consideration is designed to offer items with more than 20 grams of protein and less than 450 calories in a serving.

Missy Schaaphok, product manager for Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell Corp. and a registered dietitian, said customers have indicated they want alternatives that are higher in protein and lower in calorie. “Millennials are asking for more nutritionally balanced performance options,” she said. “Protein definitely skews more toward men, but it’s what our consumers are asking for.”

The test line will include a burrito and a bowl option, with a double portion of either chicken or steak. The burrito, for example, will include the two portions of meat, romaine lettuce, roasted corn-and-pepper salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and reduced-fat sour cream, all wrapped in a tortilla for the recommended price of $3.59 for chicken and $3.99 for steak.

Taco Bell's Power Protein chicken bowl

The burrito has 400 calories for the chicken version (420 calories for steak) and 24 grams of protein.

The bowl includes romaine lettuce, topped with the double-portion of selected meat, as well as black beans, roasted corn-and-pepper salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and reduced fat sour cream. It’s priced at $4.79 for chicken and $5.19 for steak.

The chicken bowl has 270 calories (290 calories for steak) and 23 grams of protein.

“What’s great is that, working with Lorena Garcia on the Cantina Bell menu, we added a lot of great ingredients to the menu in addition to what was already there,” said Schaaphok. “The test items utilize all existing ingredients.”

Also included in the test will be two zero-calorie beverages: SoBe Lifewater Yumberry Pomegranate, which is enhanced with vitamins B and E, and Brisk No Calorie Peach Iced Green Tea.

Taco Bell has long been known for its more indulgent food-as-fuel menu offerings, such as the XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito line, all over 800 calories with more than 35 grams of fat.

Creed’s new pledge, however, marks a shift in thinking for the quick-service chain, Schaaphok said. “We’ve really changed the way we start product development,” she said. “Now we’re thinking not only about great tasting food, but also about nutrition. This is a big shift from where we were 10 years ago.”

By the year 2020, for example, the company has pledged to offer meal options that meet one-third of U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans Recommended Daily Intake values.

In addition, the company intends for 20 percent of combination meal options to meet one-third of the recommended guidelines.

The one-third is a reference to the notion that any meal at Taco Bell would be one of three consumed in a day, although the chain is also notorious for promoting a Fourth Meal daypart.

Schaaphok said Taco Bell plans to conduct the test publicly —a somewhat unusual move for restaurant chains. The goal of the process is to achieve transparency as the brand progresses toward a more balanced menu with more healthful options alongside classic dishes.

“We plan to be constantly innovating in the area of nutrition,” she said. “And we want to bring everyone along on our nutrition journey.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout