For most people, the start of the new year means making resolutions to become better versions of themselves, commonly through exercising and eating healthier. But for companies such as Taco Bell, not quite, but rather, it is the time to launch something never offered before after the holiday season. According to Taco Bell’s press release “There’s no better way to kick off 2022, especially Taco Bell’s 60th anniversary year, than by inviting our fans to enjoy our most iconic tacos every day for 30 days,” said Zipporah Allen, Chief Digital Officer at Taco Bell. In January, Taco Bell launched the Taco Lover’s Pass, a digital taco subscription service exclusively through the app. For $10, the pass offers one of seven tacos per day for 30 consecutive days. When I heard about this, it reminded me of another notable subscription service I tried before.
My first major experience with this type of subscription occurred in early 2018 when I signed up for MoviePass. I was able to watch a movie in theaters per day for only $10 a month. The opportunity to watch a movie a day was too good to pass up because, before MoviePass, the concept of subscription tickets was unheard of, as movie tickets were sold individually tied to the movie itself. At the time when I signed up, I knew this wasn’t sustainable long-term, but I didn’t have much discretionary income, so I was going to make the most out of this offer. When MoviePass inevitably collapsed, I didn’t have any regrets because I was able to experience movies at a valued price. As the movie industry is currently recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic, MoviePass recently announced the relaunch of its movie ticketing subscription service and app starting this summer and providing customers with new offers. In January 2022, Taco Bell recently launched their nationwide Taco Lover’s Pass, a digital taco subscription service. I was extremely compelled to try it, not expecting to redefine my relationship with Taco Bell, but at the bare minimum, enjoy the unique experience of eating tacos for a month straight at a valued price.
Like MoviePass, this was quite the promotion but that didn’t necessarily mean I didn’t have any reservations. I rarely dined at Taco Bell. They advertised on TV regularly, their employees often spoke at my university in various classes and career panels, and occasionally, I passed by their corporate headquarters on the freeway. Despite my avid awareness and its 6,799 stores in the US, I hadn’t really considered Taco Bell as a place to eat, until now, thanks to the Taco Lover’s Pass.
To doubters, the idea of 30 consecutive days of tacos was unfathomable. At first, it reminded me of the 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, which consisted of a month-long social experiment of eating McDonald’s menu items every day, but my Taco Bell journey wasn’t quite the same. I was not eating exclusively nor an entire meal of Taco Bell menu items, just a single taco which is much milder in comparison. I incorporated it into my daily routine, mostly in the afternoon or evening during my commute home from work, gym, etc., not difficult or inconvenient at all. On the other hand, the tempting and challenging part was disciplining myself to stick to one taco and not spend anymore. For the most part, it worked, except for one time in early January, when Taco Bell added wings to its menu. Since I was already heading to Taco Bell, I tried the wings because it was available after 2 PM for only a week. Other than that, I didn’t order anything beyond the taco. In comparison to what Taco Bell expected, I minimized additional purchases and focused on its “loss leader” offering.
After spending $10 + sales tax for all 30 tacos, at various price points, overall, I ordered $81.50 worth, not including sales tax, almost 7.5x what I paid for the pass. Looking at the table, the Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme (DLTS) is by far my most ordered item. Coincidentally, it happened to be the item I liked the most and not because it was the most expensive. If this was strictly for value, I would have ordered the DLTS all 30 times. Occasionally, I altered with the soft taco, but more often than not, I ordered the “Supreme” version of the item, which also includes sour cream and tomatoes to the taco, never getting sick of it.
In addition to this gastronomic journey, I reflect on the larger significance of this offering. Against MoviePass, I draw some similarities and differences compared to Taco Bell. Fortunately, Taco Bell has more control of its offerings whereas MoviePass inserted itself between distributors and exhibitors without control of the movie slate, showtimes, and cost of goods. The last one really stands out, as tacos sell for $3 at most, compared to the $10+ movie tickets which the distributor and exhibitor have their own gross box office revenue sharing agreements despite both services being offered at the same price, $10 per month. Similarly, MoviePass and Taco Bell bet on altering consumer and industry trends. To this day, most domestic ticket sales happen in person just before showtime, but with more advanced ticket sales, studios and exhibitors can more accurately forecast a movie’s demand and its performance to increase or decrease marketing and showings while consumers adopt the digital app. Like MoviePass, Taco Bell stores can better manage for differing demand times and items, encourage adoption of its app and mobile ordering/payment while discouraging cash payments as the world recovers from a coin shortage and Coronavirus pandemic. For both, I also experienced an increased likelihood to try something I wouldn’t normally, for fear of not enjoying the product and feeling like a waste of money. In MoviePass’ case, it didn’t feel like a big loss and risk to watch independent or international films. Taco Bell, I increased the number of times I ate there and among the limited menu items on the Taco Lover’s Pass.
Both companies’ research indicate my experience and reflects broader trends, with MoviePass claiming in 2018, according to The Wrap, “its customers lifted the market 6% overall,” said Brian Welk, film reporter at The Wrap and following Taco Lover’s Pass local launch in 2021, Taco Bell stated among purchasers, “the fan favorite Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme being the most redeemed taco.”
Ultimately, as a frugal Millennial/Gen Zer willing to embrace innovative technology, I see this subscription trend as an opportunity for consumers to grow their direct relationship and find value with brands, one tasty taco at a time.