Taco Bell’s Genius Product-Naming Formula

Let me start by saying that I love Taco Bell. I realize that it is not actual Tex-Mex food, but a corporate version of Tex-Mex food that has been overhauled to accommodate the tastes of white people in the suburbs (my exact demographic). I love it anyway.

So when I see a commerical on TV for something new at Taco Bell, I pay attention. And the big news right now is the long-awaited return of something called the Beefy Crunch Burrito, which is Mexican-style seasoned beef, Flamin' Hot Fritos chips, nacho cheese, seasoned rice, and sour cream wrapped in a soft tortilla. Although "crunch" and "burrito" seem to be at cross-purposes—how can a soft tortilla be crunchy?—the crunch comes from the addition of the Fritos.

The Beefy Crunch Burrito was initially offered in 2010 as a limited time product. People were so in love with it that they petitioned Taco Bell to bring it back, even setting up a Facebook page to further their cause. Apparently they won, although it’s still not featured on the official Taco Bell menu page.

The name for this item got me thinking about Taco Bell nomenclature in general. In addition to co-branding with Fritos, the Bell has also started offering the Doritos Locos Taco (a taco shell made from Nacho Cheese Doritos) and the even-more stuffed cousin, the Doritos Locos Taco Supreme. These live alongside the mainstays of Taco Bell’s menu, the Soft Taco, the Crunchy Taco (both with Supreme versions) and the Volcano Taco, which comes in a vibrant red shell.

Then you’ve got Burritos, Gorditas, Fiesta Taco Salads, Nachos (Volcano, BellGrande, Supreme, and Cheesy), Chalupas, and "Specialities," which include the gut-busting Crunchwrap Supreme and the Meximelt. There’s also the special Fresco menu (aka the Drive-Thru Diet), featuring items with less calories and fat, and the Fourth Meal category of items, which breaks down into Crunchy, Spicy, Grilled, and—my favorite—Melty. Mmmmmm. Melty.

Over the years, Taco Bell has experimented with the way it names new products. Here are just a few:

  • Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco
  • Taco BellGrande
  • Grilled Stuft Burrito
  • Mucho Grande Nachos
  • Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes
  • Enchirito (one of the few coined names, coming from enchilada + burrito)

Most of these names have some basis in the Spanish language (although "burrito" also means "little donkey.") But to express variation, or new combination, the naming convention seems to limit itself to the same words: beefy, cheesy, crunchy, melty, and "stuft", which is Taco Bell's punchier version of "stuffed" (which is both what the burritors are, and what you'll be at least temporarily after eating them). It reminds me of ordering drinks at Starbucks, a kind of algebraic formula with all the little pieces in the right place: (Meat Type) + (Fun Word) + (Crunchy or Not) + (Item Name). 

I haven’t tried a Beefy Crunch Burrito yet, but I will the next time I go to the drive through at 1 a.m. (the best time for Taco Bell). In the meantime, I am reminded of a sketch on the legendary Mystery Science Theatre 3000, in which Joel and the Bots take the prefixes, root words, and suffixes of Tex-Mex food, find some new food types, mix them up, and do what Madison Avenue does: "Find a whole new way to love the same old crap!" For example:

  • Spicy Peachy Battered Chonga
  • Chickeny Gatorade-arito
  • Bel-Grande Cheesy Beefy Blue Steak Taco
  • Bel Rocco Poco Loco Roccoco Taco

Tom: "Joel, why do Americans rename Mexican food dishes?"

Joel: "Oh, it's just part of the American way, turning a neighboring country rich in culture and beauty into a goofy appetizer."

And that's the genius of Taco Bell. 

[Image: Flickr user Steven Depolo]

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