Taco Bell Corp. will promote president Brian Niccol to the role of chief executive, effective Jan. 1, 2015, the company said Tuesday. Niccol replaces Greg Creed, who is slated to become CEO of parent company Yum! Brands Inc.

The announcement comes just one year after Niccol was named president of Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, a role company officials say they have no current plans to fill once he becomes CEO.

Niccol steps into the shoes of Creed, who is replacing David Novak as Yum’s chief executive. Louisville, Ky.-based Yum said earlier this month that Novak will become executive chairman of the global quick-service operator in January. Yum operates and franchises more than 40,000 locations of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in more than 125 countries.

Taco Bell promotes Brian Niccol to president
Greg Creed to become Yum CEO next year
Taco Bell at NRN.com

“Brian has extraordinary leadership skills that make him the ideal candidate for our next CEO,” Creed said in a statement.  “He is a dynamic leader who genuinely cares about this brand, its people and the culture of the organization. He has a proven track record and the necessary vision to deliver our growth objectives, having overseen multiple breakthrough initiatives, including the brand’s game-changing breakfast launch earlier this year.”

Niccol previously served as chief marketing and innovation officer for the 5,600-unit Taco Bell beginning October 2011, a time when the nearly 50-year-old quick-service chain was poised for a turnaround after same-store sales plummeted following a consumer lawsuit that questioned the contents of the chain’s seasoned ground beef. The lawsuit was later dropped.

Over the next three years, Taco Bell demonstrated a dramatic brand revival, emerging as a master of social media and edgy marketing that targets Millennials. Niccol also led the chain’s transition to the “Live Más” tagline, which included an overall shift from the notion of food as fuel to “food as experience.”

The menu was overhauled with the addition of the wildly successful Doritos Locos Tacos line and the fast-casual-inspired Cantina Bell platform developed by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia. Taco Bell recently rolled out breakfast, with menu items like the A.M. Crunchwrap and Waffle Taco.

This year, Taco Bell plans to launch a new menu item called the Quesarito — a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla — which company officials have called its best-selling product test since the Doritos Locos Taco.

Taco Bell also plans to launch mobile ordering later this year.

“Brian’s relentless focus on always being a better, more relevant and accessible Taco Bell has made the brand an industry leader and a fan favorite,” Creed said. “I’m confident that his vision, leadership and focus on people will continue to make Taco Bell one of the world’s most relevant lifestyle brands.”

Though weather dampened same-store sales in Taco Bell’s most recent first quarter, Wall Street analysts remain bullish on its long-term growth potential.

Over the next decade, Taco Bell has pledged to double systemwide sales to $14 billion and open another 2,000 restaurants. Additionally, Taco Bell is scheduled to debut this summer a new fast-casual taco concept called U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, which could provide a new avenue for growth.

Niccol also chairs the chain’s Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, which works with the Boys & Girls Club of America to provide $30 million in grants to help teenagers graduate from high school.

Prior to joining Taco Bell, Niccol served as general manager and chief marketing officer for sister brand Pizza Hut USA. He also held several brand management positions at Procter & Gamble.

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