9,000 restaurants, $15 billion in sales — and nacho fries (EMBARGO 2PM 5/25) – Orange County Register


Boasting a brand that creates culture with its whimsical spin on Mexican food, Irvine-based Taco Bell said Thursday it plans to reach $15 billion in sales with 9,000 global stores by 2022.

That’s roughly 2,350 more restaurants in five years, the company said during an investor and analyst meeting held at its Irvine headquarters. Taco Bell, which serves 46 million customers a week, said it will focus its international growth in Brazil, Canada, China and India where the number of restaurants could reach 100 per market.

Today, Taco Bell operates roughly 6,650 restaurants in 23 countries. By staying current, creative and providing value, Chief Executive Brian Niccol said Taco Bell can reach its goal in five years. He pointed to his trend-driving marketing team that has launched superfan events such as Taco Bell weddings in Las Vegas and an exclusive five-course dining event in the company’s Irvine test kitchen.

“We don’t react to culture. We drive culture,” Niccol said.

The five-course meal, held May 19, served 32 fans who nabbed reservations on OpenTable. The event sold out in 34 seconds with some fans traveling from the East Coast to attend.

“That’s brand love,” Chief Marketing Officer Marisa Thalberg said.

Delivering foods with a cult-like following — like the Doritos Locos Taco and the Naked Chicken Chalupa — are also key to the brand’s success, Niccol said.  The Naked Chicken Chalupa, a temporary menu item with a fried chicken taco shell, sold  25 million tacos over six weeks earlier this year.

“We have turned this brand to more than selling tacos. It’s a brand that is a lifestyle brand,” Niccol said.

Going forward, expect more tests of new items, and twists on core items that Thalberg called “icon-ovation.”

For example, coming soon rolled tacos, a double chalupa and a double cheesy gordita. The company is also testing $1 nacho-flavored fries seasoned with habanero spices and served with nacho cheese sauce.

“The pipeline…

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