Taco Bell fans will get a caffeine-like jolt when the Irvine, Calif., chain launches a dozen classic and novelty breakfast foods next month, including a syrup-drenched waffle taco.
Certain Taco Bells have offered breakfast, formerly called First Meal, for two years. But on Monday, Taco Bell officials said they've fine-tuned the menu and are ready to pull the trigger March 27 in 5,500 restaurants nationally.
Besides the egg-stuffed waffle taco, the menu includes an A.M. Crunchwrap, breakfast burritos, Cinnabon Delights, breakfast tacos, hash browns and a flatbread melt with sausage.
"We're taking classic breakfast taste, and giving them a unique Taco Bell twist," Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt said Monday.
The menu comes after seven years of testing and food research as the chain strives to be a serious player in a $31 billion breakfast category dominated by McDonald's.
"We believe we are going to be a challenger in this market," Taco Bell President Brian Niccol said.
Taco Bell is pushing the envelope by adding a waffle taco to the menu. While other items have been in test for years, the much-hyped waffle taco made the final cut after being in the testing phase less than a year in a handful of California restaurants.
Last May, the puffy waffle taco went viral as food bloggers spotted it on menus. It came stuffed with eggs and sausage with syrup served on the side. For the national rollout next month, the slightly tweaked waffle is thinner and comes in special packaging for easy handling, Brandt said. It also includes cheese and an option of bacon.
Orange County, Calif., Taco Bell franchisee Steve Smith said the chain is putting an innovative spin on breakfast.
The menu isn't "standard biscuits and pancakes," he said.
Though the waffle taco is the most buzzworthy item on the menu, both Brandt and Smith predicted the A.M. Crunchwrap would be the top selling breakfast meal on the morning menu. The hearty meal has been tested for nearly two years ago at most Taco Bell restaurants in California's Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties.
Similar in look to its hexagon-shaped Crunchwrap Supreme, the item is a flour tortilla wrapped around scrambled eggs, a hash brown, melted cheese and a choice of bacon or sausage. In March, steak from the Cantina Bell menu will be an added option.
"It's everything you love about breakfast wrapped into a one-handed sandwich," Brandt said. "It's the most portable breakfast sandwich in the business."
Some items tested didn't make the final cut, including iced coffee and a mash-up drink of Mountain Dew and orange juice. Brandt said Taco Bell also scrapped using Seattle's Best Coffee, opting for a private-label blend.
Once a financial drag on its parent company YUM Brands Inc., Taco Bell has been the lone bright spot for the world's largest multi-brand restaurant operator. The breakfast line is part of a major turnaround strategy that includes massive expansion for Taco Bell.
In 2012, the chain swapped its "Think Outside the Bun" slogan for "Live Mas." It also rolled out the wildly popular Doritos Locos Taco, which was a viral hit - both at the cash register and in social media. Taco Bell called the reinvented taco, made with a Doritos-based taco shell, the most successful product launch in the chain's history.
Last year, Taco Bell Chief Executive Greg Creed said the chain has set a lofty goal of reaching annual sales of $14 billion at 8,000 restaurants by 2022.