Now With More Meat: Taco Bell’s ‘Power Protein’ Menu

Would you like extra steak on your steak burrito?

Think outside the bun; think more protein. (Photo: time_anchor/Flickr)

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Is the term “protein” more palatable than plain old meat? Taco Bell is betting their customer base will think so, and is introducing its new “Power Protein” menu to Ohio guests.

If you’re thinking that new items will include tofu, quinoa, rice and beans or even fish, think again. A peek at the new Power Protein menu shows it’s just chicken and steak, with a zero-calorie beverage to wash it down. (That beverage, by the way, isn’t plain old ice water. Options include SoBe Lifewater Yumberry Pomegranate or Brisk No Calorie Peach Iced Green Tea.) The new items, which come in a burrito or bowl option, contain a double portion of chicken or steak and contain approximately 20 grams of protein.

“The Power Protein Menu is significant because balanced nutrition drove product creation. This is the first menu item created with our new nutritional guardrails in mind,” says the Taco Bell statement.

We’re not sure exactly what “nutritional guardrails” are, but we think it might be something like bumper bowling for fast-food fans.

Missy Schaaphok, a nutritionist and product manager for Taco Bell, told Bloomberg Businessweek that they’re highlighting the term protein, “because of the ingredients in the items.” But reporter Venessa Wong points to data from Infergy as the drive behind the menu wording.

“Data from Infegy—a company that analyzes user-generated content on blogs, social-media accounts, and other online sources—shows that 43 percent of conversations about ‘meat’ over the last six months were negative and often included such words as ‘bad,’ ‘concerns,’ and ‘problem.’ ”

The term protein,” apparently, is less tainted, with only six percent of the conversations considered negative.

Taco Bell itself has had several years of controversy surrounding its meat ingredients. In 2011 there was the “mystery meat” lawsuit, which was later withdrawn. In 2012 the company was caught up in the nation’s “pink slime” flap. This spring the horsemeat scandal that rocked Europe reached Taco Bell as well, when tests on meat in its U.K. market came back positive. Perhaps rebranding meat as protein is a wise marketing move after all.

The new menu comes on the heels of an earlier announcement in April by the taco giant that it would be implementing new nutritional guidelines. According to USA Today, “Taco Bell hopes to test a range of new, better-for-you products later this year and begin launching some nationally in 2014.”

Clearly, the new Power Protein menu is the first in what CEO Greg Creed says would be “more balanced options”—“options” being the key word there. While the new items top out at 400 calories for a Power Protien chicken burrito, plenty of calorie-dense menu items remain to tempt customers, including the Volcano Nachos, coming in at a whopping 970 calories. Pass the salsa.

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