Maybe Chipotle might not have to worry about Taco Bell’s upscale Cantina menu after all.
While Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos may have helped give the chain the biggest improvement in consumer perception in the QSR category in the first half of 2012, its new upscale Cantina menu may not be going over with fast food eaters in the US.
Taco Bell’s consumer perception with fast food eaters via word of mouth, marketing and advertising took a four-month ride upward from February until the end of May, coinciding with its joint venture with Doritos. For two brief times over that period – the end of April and May -- Taco Bell reached the same or better perception levels as the average of the top national QSR dining chains. Taco Bell stayed ahead of smaller rival Chipotle – a key QSR player in the upscale Mexican space – by a healthy margin.
Taco Bell’s new ad campaign for its Cantina menu featuring chef Lorena Garcia also seemed to revive the brand’s buzz score back upward after taking a breather post-Doritos Locos surge.
However, all may not be well in Cantinaland with customers. According to YouGov BrandIndex’s Index score, its flagship measure of overall brand health, while Taco Bell posted strong levels all year long ahead of Chipotle, the introduction of the Cantina menu on July 5th sent its Index score down sharply, bringing it below Chipotle’s levels.
Taco Bell, Chipotle and the Top National QSR chains were measured with two of YouGov BrandIndex’s scores: 1) Buzz score, which asks respondents: “If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?” 2) Index score, YouGov BrandIndex’s overall brand health measurement, which is calculated from average the following sub-scores: impression, quality, value, reputation, satisfaction and willingness to recommend. For this research, all respondents reported eating fast food in the past month. The Top National QSR sector average includes such brands as Pizza Hut, Arby's, Papa John's, Domino's, KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, & Long John Silver's.
YouGov BrandIndex measurement scores range from 100 to -100 and are compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.
Taco Bell’s buzz score swung from 15 in early March to 23 at the end of May. Chipotle climbed from 11 in early March to a peak of 17 on May 1st then back down to 12 at the end of the month.
For Index score, Taco Bell remained at a steady range of 19 to 21from February through May while the Top National QSR sector average stayed at around 25 through that time. During Taco Bell’s strongest run from April through the end of May, Chipotle’s Index score was 5 or 6 points behind Taco Bell.
On July 5th, the day the Cantina menu was introduced nationally, Taco Bell’s Index score dropped from 20 down to 14 eight days later, one point below Chipotle and eight points below the Top National QSR sector average.