Innovation Spotlight: Taco Bell x Cheez-It Crunchwrap & Tostada

Isa Franzini & Janine Klimko
Zappi Innovation Spotlight analysis Taco Bell x Cheez-it

Welcome to Innovation Spotlight! Each month we’ll spotlight a brand that’s capitalizing on a current consumer trend with a new product innovation.

This month we researched Taco Bell and Cheez-It’s Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada. Read on to get our analysis of the product's in-market potential, the audiences it appeals to, as well as what you can learn from it to innovate smarter. 

Taco Bell x Cheez-It’s Crunchwrap and Tostada

This week Taco Bell is launching two new long-awaited products in the US: the Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Cheez-It Tostada. Originally tested in select locations in California two years ago, the two menu items are finally being rolled out nationwide with much excitement from fans.

Taco Bell x Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada product

Both items feature a Cheez-It cracker 16 times larger than its original size. The Tostada is a massive Cheez-It loaded with ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and sour cream. The Crunchwrap has all the same ingredients as the Tostada wrapped in a tortilla like a traditional Taco Bell Crunchwrap. 

These are both limited-time items that will only be featured on the Taco Bell menu until mid July.

Why is it interesting?

Brand collaborations are not new, but this doesn’t make them any less talk-worthy! They’ve been used to excite consumers and drive engagement beyond the core for decades. 

There’s been some incredibly exciting partnerships that have driven consumers crazy like the Supreme-branded Oreos, the recent “chocolate love a-fair” between Tony’s Chocolonely and Ben & Jerry’s, and the infamous now-dissolved partnership between Adidas and Yeezy, to name a few. 

However, not all brand collaborations are successful. In fact, we’ve seen some pretty dubious choices over the years! 

Taco Bell is no stranger to a collab; over ten years ago the brand formed a long-lasting partnership with Doritos and more recently has joined forces with brands like Mountain Dew and Tajín. 

It was the Cheez-It collab that caught our eye though! This is because not only does it add a new element to already-loved existing menu items, it completely changes the make-up of the brand they are partnering with, making the Cheez-It 16 times its original size. 

There’s been a lot of hype online about this partnership so we were keen to see whether this was representative of the average population. 

Top three takeaways
  1. Brand partnerships can drive great additional engagement for your brand; however, it is essential to pick your partner wisely. When choosing a brand to team up with, aligned values and complementing features should be prioritized over shock value and virality.

  2. When exploring a brand partnership, look to understand the potential partner brand’s consumer profile. How is it different from your own? By partnering with a brand that appeals to a different audience than yours, there’s potential to expand your consumer base attracting people who may never have engaged with your brand otherwise. 

  3. It’s crucial to understand the difference between uniqueness and advantage when launching a new product or menu item and the type of growth they might help deliver. A unique and differentiated innovation might be more suited to drive short-term excitement and trial while one that is also seen as superior compared to what already exists in market can drive wider and longer-term engagement.

A deep dive into our analysis

What’s the potential?

Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada score in the top 40% of all quick service restaurants’ innovations we have tested in the US market on trial potential and in the top 5% on breakthrough potential

Sitting in the ‘seed and grow’ section of our potential quadrant means the menu items are seen as highly unique and distinctive but may not necessarily appeal to a mass audience. 

Taco Bell x Cheez-it trial and breakthrough potential scores
Trial Potential is based on the product’s purchase likelihood. Breakthrough Potential is defined by how different and superior the product is perceived to be versus what’s already available in the market. The concept is plotted on a matrix according to its Trial & Breakthrough Potential to classify it as one of five types (scale & sustain, short-term trial, seed & grow, emergent and rework).

Nevertheless, the Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada still gained good traction with almost two thirds of respondents stating they would likely order the items (order likelihood T2B: 64.8% vs 60.0% norm). In fact, 59.4% (54.7% norm) of respondents went on to say they would willingly pass another quick service restaurant in order to try Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada. 

The items were notably more popular with respondents who are regular fast food consumers, ordering at least once a month. Among them, the order likelihood of Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada was significantly above average for a new QSR menu item (68.3% vs 60.0% norm). If they had visited Taco Bell in the last three months, it made them even more likely to order with 74% claiming they would do so. 

Interestingly, men were more interested in the menu items than women (order likelihood T2B: 71.7% vs 57.8% women) and younger adults (under 45 years old) claimed to be more likely to engage with them compared to older adults (order likelihood T2B: 70.9% vs 55.7% over 45s). While there was a significant difference in response between younger and older adults, it’s worth noting that among older adults these menu items were more popular than the average QSR innovation we’ve tested in the US, as typically less than half within this age group would be likely to order (48.7% QSR order likelihood T2B among over 45s). 

Taco Bell x Cheez-it order likelihood

The differences in demographics are perhaps due to the average consumer profile of fast food restaurants, with men and younger adults being more likely to engage with them more frequently than women and older adults. 

Looking at the menu items individually, the Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap gained more traction with 67.3% of people saying they would probably or definitely order it, while 57.1% said they would order the Tostada. 

Furthermore, when visually showcasing the menu items and asking respondents to point out what they liked about them, the heatmap showed more likes attributed to the Crunchwrap than the Tostada. 

Referring to the Crunchwrap, one respondent said “I like the way this is shaped and it looks like it would be less messy than other tacos!” Another echoed the sentiment: “I would prefer the wrap because it would be easier to eat and wouldn’t be as messy.”

Taco Bell x Cheez-it heat map likes

When it comes to breakthrough potential, we look at two key measures to determine this:

  1. How different (distinctiveness) a product is

  2. How superior (advantage) a product is compared to what’s already available in market 

Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap and Tostada absolutely excel in distinctiveness, performing significantly above the average for a QSR innovation (distinctiveness T2B: 82.8% vs 66.4% norm). The fact that the items contain a Cheez-It cracker 16 times the size of a regular one makes them extremely unique and differentiated compared to what already exists in market, even when the regular version without the Cheez-It is available on the Taco Bell menu. 

Perhaps this is what drives the items to be seen as less advantageous (advantage T2B: 56.3% vs 51.9% norm) as they are different. The advantage of the existing menu items lies in the “crunch” element and the Cheez-It mostly adds a new level of crunch to them with a different flavor profile. 

Once again, there was a divide in demographics when it comes to who was more likely to see the items as superior compared to existing offers. Men (advantage T2B: 62.9% vs 49.6% women) and younger adults (advantage T2B: 66.3% vs 41.3% older adults) scored the items higher on advantage compared to women and older adults respectively, with a bigger gap seen among the age groups.

Taco Bell x Cheez-it distinctiveness scores

Given that there was barely any difference in perception on item distinctiveness, it’s safe to say the perceived superiority of the product was one of the biggest drivers for order likelihood. 

This is often what separates products that sit within the ‘scale and sustain’ and the ‘seed and grow’ sections of our potential grid. Distinctiveness and uniqueness will make a product or menu item catch consumers’ eyes and stand out among others — it may even prompt some to try it out of curiosity. However, it is superiority compared to what’s already available that will drive more sustainable engagement with the product or menu item as consumers see it as providing a benefit beyond just being different. 

What do they like about it?

People thought the Cheez-It items would taste great, commenting on both the flavor and texture combinations with the added crunchiness of the giant Cheez-It. The visual look of the items was also appealing alongside the fact that they appear to be quite filling. 

Taco Bell x Cheez-it product likes chart

The uniqueness of the concept was really interesting to consumers and fans of the brands were ecstatic about the collaboration, hoping for the familiar taste of Cheez-Its to enhance the Taco Bell experience. 

Here’s what respondents said excited them about Taco Bell’s Cheez-It menu items:

  • "I love this idea because the Cheez-It is so good and seeing it this size is incredible. It would add a great taste to an already splendid meal."

  • "It's delicious, it has a little of everything especially the sour cream and cheese and beef."

  • "It sounds very cheesy and I would enjoy the cracker crunch I expect from Cheez-Its."

  • "I love Cheez-Its and I love the crunch wrap supreme so together it might be pretty good."

  • "It’s something different. You don’t see places incorporating snacks into meals. It looks delicious."

While there was lots of love for the collaboration, not everyone was fully on board: 10% of respondents mentioned the addition of the Cheez-It element as something they disliked. Some expressed concern about the cracker becoming soggy or making the items too cheesy, while others just don’t particularly like the taste of the nostalgic snack. 

Nevertheless, over three quarters of respondents agreed the Cheez-It brand was a good fit for Taco Bell and 70% agreed the collaboration with Cheez-It helps drive greater flavor for the menu items. Three quarters also agreed that the inclusion of Cheez-It into menu items helps drive brand trust for Taco Bell. Ultimately though, the biggest element the collaboration drives for Taco Bell is uniqueness with 79% of respondents agreeing to this. 

Final thoughts

Over the years we’ve seen some exciting, underwhelming, very out-there, intriguing, predictable and surprising brand collaborations. This collaboration between Cheez-It and Taco Bell is one people never knew they needed and will definitely be driving people to their nearest Taco Bell!

What did you think? Let us know by interacting with our coverage of the product on LinkedIn.

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