At Taco Bell, It's Not 'Meat,' It's 'Protein'

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

After all the pink slime and horse meat fiascoes consumers have endured recently, the word “meat” just isn’t working up the appetite like it used to. One euphemism you might see more of at lunchtime: “protein.”

On July 25, Taco Bell will start testing a new “Power Protein” menu in Ohio aimed at health-conscious consumers. It will include items with more than 20 grams of protein and less than 450 calories per serving, such as a burrito and a bowl, both served with a double portion of chicken or steak. The menu is already being tested under the name “Fresco Power” in Southern California.

Missy Schaaphok, nutritionist and product manager for Taco Bell, says in an e-mail that the company is using the “protein” label on its new menu “because of the ingredients in the items.” The emphasis on nutrition, rather than meatiness, is one consumers are likely to notice. Data from Infegy—a company that analyzes user-generated content on blogs, social-media accounts, and other online sources—shows that 43 percent of conversations about “meat” over the last six months were negative and often included such words as “bad,” “concerns,” and “problem.”

On the other hand, only 6 percent of conversations about “protein” were negative. Most people associated it with words like “good”, “healthy,” and “delicious.” The result: Some 91 percent of conversations about the “Power Protein” menu have been positive, according to Infegy.

Taco Bell hopes the menu will appeal to both men and women (unlike the Taco Bell Fresco menu, which has done better with women). Infegy says that so far, more women are talking about “Power Protein.” The menu is part of Taco Bell’s recent commitment to making a healthier menu by 2020.

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