How Taco Bell's Lead Innovator Created The Most Successful Menu Item Of All Time
Taco Bell released the product in 2012 and sold more than a billion units in the first year. The fast food company had to hire an estimated 15,000 workers to keep up with demand.
The taco had been discussed internally for years.
But it took serious commitment from product developer Steven Gomez to actually make it happen.
The Doritos Locos Taco would be the greatest challenge of Gomez's career.
Gomez earned his master's degree in Food Science from Rutgers University. He cut his teeth at the Pepsi brand, developing Sierra Mist and Gatorade products.
He joined Taco Bell in 2006, and quickly worked his way up to management in its Irving, Calif. headquarters.
When Gomez first heard the idea of making a crunchy taco shell out of Doritos, he was enthusiastic.
"When the idea for the Doritos Locos Tacos came out of a collaborative ideation with Frito-Lay, we immediately saw the potential," Gomez told Business Insider.
But when Gomez and his team began to work on the idea, they began to realize it was easier said than done.
"The idea sounds really simple, but it has to deliver on two fronts: the classic Taco Bell taste and the distinctive Doritos experience," Gomez said. "Unlike a tortilla chip, taco shells can't break, and have to properly hold the taco ingredients."
"When consumers tried them, they said it was a great idea but didn't deliver on their expectations," Gomez said.
Test consumers complained about the taste and the texture, Taco Bell executives told Austin Carr at Fast Company. The shell didn't capture the zesty flavor of a Dorito, or the crunch of a Taco Bell taco.
Instead it was a "displeasing amalgamation of the two flavor profiles," Carr wrote.
Customers also wanted to get cheese dust on their fingers after they ate a Doritos Locos Taco, because that was the experience they got when eating the chips.
But seasoning the tacos was a challenge. Orange dust got everywhere, presenting a possible hazard to workers.
The team went through more than 40 recipes, and Gomez told Business Insider he sometimes felt like the idea would never come to fruition.
"Execution was so difficult," he said.
Gomez was eventually able to perfect the shell by using the same corn masa found in Doritos. He also discovered a process that would evenly distribute the seasoning on the shells. And the company found a way to contain the cheese dust in the production process.
Even after Gomez created the ultimate shell, he still had to design production facilities that would make millions of them.
But for Gomez, the years of effort was worth it.
"When we shared the idea with our consumers, they loved it," Gomez said. "I was blown away with how immediately popular Doritos Locos Tacos became."
The taco is the most popular menu item in the fast food chain's 50-year history.
"The moment of truth was the reaction of our customers," Gomez said. "When they give it two thumbs up, we knew we had a winner."
He was also awarded the President's Award, Taco Bell's highest honor, in 2012.
In addition to the Nacho Cheese version of the taco, Taco Bell has released Cooler Ranch and Flamas versions.
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