Checkoff helps Taco Bell launch new menu items

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The burrito and beverage are available at US Taco Bell locations for a limited time. Pic: Taco Bell
The burrito and beverage are available at US Taco Bell locations for a limited time. Pic: Taco Bell

Related tags Cheese Dairy Taco Bell

Taco Bell recently unveiled the Grilled Cheese Burrito and a Pineapple Whip Freeze beverage.

The new products were created with the involvement of the dairy checkoff program. Originally formed in 1983 when production was outpacing consumption, the national checkoff program was created to increase demand of dairy foods.

Mike Ciresi, a Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) senior dairy scientist who works at Taco Bell’s headquarters in Irvine, California, co-managed both projects. He said the Grilled Cheese Burrito, which was unveiled on July 2, resulted from a brainstorming session at the company’s office. The goal was to put Taco Bell’s signature spin on a comfort food.

The burrito features a blend of mozzarella, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses in addition to sour cream, beef, rice, crunchy red strips and chipotle sauce. A layer of cheese is then grilled around the tortilla, Ciresi said.

Taco Bell faced initial challenges in finding heat-resistant paper that the cheese wouldn’t stick to, but Ciresi led efforts to identify a solution that allowed the chain to successfully launch the product.

The Pineapple Whip, launched in May, is the chain’s first beverage to contain dairy since Taco Bell and DMI formed a partnership in 2012. Ciresi said the beverage also faced several hurdles that needed to be addressed, beginning with Taco Bell restaurants not having refrigeration capacity near their drink stations to store dairy products.

So, Ciresi and Emil Nashed, who leads DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships science team, joined DMI’s Product Research Team and the Midwest Dairy Center at the University of Minnesota to collaborate on a solution. Midwest is part of the National Dairy Foods Research Center program that receives national and local checkoff support. Its six centers encompass the expertise and resources of 17 universities.

The team worked to create a dairy-based, shelf-stable creamer that consists of real cream and met Taco Bell’s product requirements.

“Taco Bell has always wanted an indulgent beverage to fill a menu gap, but the setup of its restaurants made it challenging,”​ Ciresi said.

“That caused us to think differently because we knew we could make a delicious dairy beverage that didn’t need refrigeration. We were convinced there was a way to do it and our work with the Midwest Dairy Center proved that it was possible.”

Ciresi said the project took three years to come to fruition.

The Pineapple Whip Freeze is available for a limited time or until supplies run out. The Grilled Cheese Burrito also is a limited time offering, which fits Taco Bell’s strategy.

Ciresi said the projects show the benefit of having dairy scientists on site at a major chain’s headquarters. DMI’s team of dairy scientists also support foodservice partners including McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and KFC.

“Having scientists on site every day is valuable because we hear the conversations; we understand not just the product development direction, but the brand overall,”​ Ciresi said.

“We can leverage our resources and dairy knowledge to help solve problems because we know firsthand where the limitations and hurdles exist. Bringing solutions to the table and identifying new opportunities is really what benefits the dairy industry.”

The burrito weighs in at 710 calories, with 39g of fat (60% of recommended daily value based on 2,000 calorie diet), of which 15g is saturated fat (75% of recommended daily value), 1,490mg of sodium (62% of recommended daily value), 64g of carbohydrates, 7g of fiber, 26g of protein, and 50% of the recommended daily amount of calcium.