“We’re on fire,” is how Taco Bell International President Julie Felss Masino described the Mexican fast-food chain’s rollout at CityA.M.
After launching 50 sites in the UK over the past decade, the US-based company has grown by another 50 sites in the past 18 months alone.
The chain, subsidiary of Pizza Hut and owner of KFC Yum! Brands, envisions “several hundred” UK sites. It will open its 100th site this month.
“It’s really the ground floor of growth for us,” explained Julie Felss Masino.
However, the expansion comes at a time when consumers have already begun to cut back on casual dining spending, with household bills skyrocketing across the board.
The pressure on consumers was “very real”, she said. “You can see it everywhere you go.”
However, one of Taco Bell’s ‘core values is value’, she added, pointing to a menu offering items from as low as £1.
“You can fill yourself up with not a lot of money,” she said.
During the pandemic, the chain introduced bundle deals, offering meals for groups at a “reasonable price”.
However, like its peers, the brand has been forced to raise prices this year as supply chain costs rise and utility costs soar following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prices rose about 5% in April, in line with the market, Felss Masino said.
Despite gloomy economic forecasts, the president was optimistic about the future of the sector. “If you look at the past two years of pandemic and war, what I’ve found is that humans are incredibly resilient.”
In February, Taco Bell owner Yum posted fourth-quarter net income of $330 million, up from $332 million a year earlier.
Its restaurant brands have caused margins to squeeze as businesses face rising operational costs.
“As all of these things continue to happen to us, we are leading with our hearts and continuing to move forward. There will always be something going on in the business and our team is truly focused on supporting our customers.
With a variety of channels for consumers, Felss Masino also believed that convenience would be a pull factor for consumers, despite high inflation for 40 years.
Although keen to consolidate its delivery offer, the brand was not fond of dark kitchens. “It’s such a fun, engaging and really relevant hallmark and we want our customers to have that experience with us,” she said.
While rival Tortilla took over Chilango last year, Taco Bell hasn’t been too bothered by acquisitions. “We’re growing and really focusing on doing ourselves and doing well,” Felss Masino said.
London was an “incredible world-class destination”, with the capital “the natural place” for more sites, she added.
“The first thing we hear on social media is ‘when will there be a Taco Bell in my local community,'” she said.
“When I was here in December I had the opportunity to go to an opening in Guildford at 9 or 10 a.m. there was a line wrapped around the block. At 9 a.m. people were lining up for tacos. Some of these kids were supposed to be in school, I won’t tell their parents.