Taco Bell will roll out next week an updated version of its gourmet Cantina Bell menu to appeal to protein-hungry consumers.

The renamed “Cantina Power” menu will replace the fast-casual-positioned burrito and bowl options with dishes that double the amount of meat, compared with the regular menu, and reduce the calorie count.

Additionally, Taco Bell will begin testing Power options on Aug. 4 at breakfast, including a new Greek yogurt with granola, and higher-protein versions of breakfast steak burritos and bowls.

Brian Niccol, Taco Bell Corp.’s president and soon-to-be chief executive, said the move is part of the Irvine, Calif.-based chain’s ongoing attempt to become more relevant and meet the needs of Millennials, whom he said are often seeking higher-protein options as a more healthful alternative.

The Cantina Power menu items each have more than 20 grams of protein and fewer than 500 calories.

The Cantina Power Burrito includes a double portion of protein with the option of marinated and grilled chicken or steak, along with romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, Cheddar cheese and reduced-fat sour cream wrapped in a tortilla. It has 29 grams of protein. The bowl offers the same ingredients served on a bed of black beans and Latin rice. It has 28 grams of protein.

The two items replace the previous Cantina Bell burrito and bowl, which were developed in part by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia in 2012 and featured upgraded ingredients.

At the time, the Cantina Bell menu was positioned as an under-$5 alternative to the bowls and burritos of fresh-Mex competitors Chipotle Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill.

With the evolution to the Power platform, two of Garcia’s gourmet ingredients, roasted corn salsa and creamy cilantro dressing, will be dropped from the menu.

Niccol said the Power options were tested at restaurants in Dayton, Ohio, and guests suggested that the Cantina menu and the higher-protein dishes could be merged.

Though Garcia didn’t have a hand in the Power menu, she continues to work with Taco Bell on other menu innovations, Niccol said.

The new versions aren’t necessarily higher in protein than the former, which already offered larger portions of meat, but the nutritional profile is improved.

Under the previous recipe, the Cantina Bell Steak Burrito, for example, had 34 grams of protein, but also 750 calories. The chicken burrito had 32 grams of protein and 730 calories.

For the carb-adverse, the Power versions of the burritos have no rice or beans.

Indulgent menu items will stay

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Like its predecessors, however, the Cantina Power items also push into the upper range of Taco Bell’s pricing.

The steak Power Bowl, for example, is priced at a recommended $5.19, though the chicken version comes in a bit lower at $4.99. The suggested pricing for the burrito is $3.79 for chicken and $3.99 for steak.

Vegetarian options, which hold the meat, but increase the beans, are also available, at $3.79 for the burrito and $4.99 for the bowl.

The Power breakfast test will be conducted in Omaha, Neb., Niccol said.

The Greek yogurt is a boutique brand developed in partnership with Three Happy Cows. To be tested in a vanilla bean flavor with a granola topping, the product has 17 grams of protein per serving and 240 calories. The suggested price will be $2.49.

Taco Bell has offered a yogurt parfait in the past, but Niccol said the Greek version offered a “higher-protein solution at another daypart.”

The breakfast burrito and bowl options will include larger portions of meat and eggs. Both will be priced at a suggested $2.79 each.

Later, the chain will add Power versions of other menu items, including more burritos or the Crunchwrap platform, Niccol said.

If deemed successful, the higher-protein breakfast options would likely roll out in the first half of 2015, said Niccol.

Taco Bell has long been known for its more indulgent menu options, like the Quesarito, a mash-up of a burrito with a quesadilla, which debuted last month. The seasoned beef version has 650 calories, 34 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein.

Niccol said those items are not going away, but the chain aims to offer guests more variety for those looking for ways to fit the flavors of Taco Bell into their lifestyle in different ways.

“We’re not eliminating the things we’re famous for,” he said. “We’re expanding our relevance.”

The Fresco menu, launched in 2008, allows guests to cut calories and fat by customizing existing menu items, he noted. Coming down the pike will be more vegetarian options, though Taco Bell customers can order existing menu items without meat.

However, Niccol said, Taco Bell’s customers “are not looking for diet food.”

They’re looking for food that gives them energy, he said. They want variety, but also want the craveability Taco Bell is known for at lower prices.
“We want everybody to have access to food like this,” he said. “You’re not going to have to pay an arm and a leg to get great tasting, high-protein solutions.”

A subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., the nearly 6,000-unit Taco Bell has set a goal to double its sales from $7 billion in 2012 to $14 billion, and to open another 2,000 restaurants.

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