Make a list of Earth’s most pressing challenges and the precise consistency of the cheese on a fast-food burrito probably doesn’t rank too high.
But if this detailed New Yorker profile on Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen teaches us anything, it’s to never underestimate the 12 chef scientists and 60 food-innovation developers behind the chain’s menu magic.
They take their work seriously — you have to if your output is a primary growth engine for a ~8.2k-location, $14.65B-in-annual-sales restaurant serving 42m people every week — and they regularly solve complex problems.
Why we’d elect them as our (Crunchwrap) Supreme Leaders
Whether you love or hate the food, the stream of additions to Taco Bell’s menu makes it one of food’s most compelling spaces. At its root is a legendary creative culture they’ve nurtured — one well worth learning from.
Some key components:
- Iteration: Taco Bell annually releases ~10 new products; to do so, their innovation team generates thousands of ideas and tests ~70 of them.
- Patience: The idea for the Crunchwrap Supreme was tweaked in the lab for 13 years until it made the cut.
- Practical constraints: A creative process without limitations is often too blue-sky; the scale of Taco Bell’s business requires careful consideration of the cost, quantity, and preparation of each component, as well as speed — can it be prepared in ~1 minute?
- Attention to detail: Scientific precision is lent to ingredients’ material properties — from bounce to juiciness, springback to spreadability. And every ratio is carefully considered, like how the balance of fats and acids impacts mouthfeel and brain chemistry.
- Breaking convention: The team pushes past technical limits — famously trying a paint-spray gun to try applying the correct amount of Doritos powder to their taco shells.
- Consumer focus: Every successful creative product is evocative for its audience, even an oddball limited-edition Grilled Stuft Nacho. Per The New Yorker, “nostalgia” and “emotion” are frequently raised in their Innovation Kitchen.
BTW: Taco Bell is a leader in generating flash-in-the-pan menu sensations, but it isn’t the only fast-food giant with an impressive experimentation outfit; we’ve been inside Shake Shack’s innovation kitchen.