Taco Bell Pushing Protein Bowls Amid Paleo Diet Craze

Steak Chalupas aren’t the only way to load up on protein at Taco Bell anymore.

The chain owned by Yum! Brands Inc. is introducing a Cantina Power Menu nationwide on July 17. Taco Bell last year tested a Power Protein Menu with chicken and steak burritos and bowls after its low-calorie and low-fat menu wasn’t resonating with customers.

“People are not looking for diet food,” Brian Niccol, who’s in line to become Taco Bell’s chief executive officer, said on a conference call with reporters today. “What they are looking for is food that gives them energy, food that’s going to give them freshness, food that’s going to give them the protein.”

Taco Bell, which said in May that Niccol would become its CEO in 2015, has been revamping its menu to boost sales. It began selling breakfast items throughout the U.S. earlier this year and recently rolled out spicy-chicken cool ranch Doritos locos tacos and a quesadilla-burrito hybrid.

Food on the Cantina Power Menu has a double portion of meat, compared with regular items, and at least 20 grams of protein and 500 calories or less. A chicken burrito is $3.79 and a steak bowl is $5.19, more expensive than the standard menu.

Stone Age

Other restaurants, including Panera Bread Co., are selling more protein-heavy dishes as Americans look to eat more of it and because of the rising popularity of the Paleolithic, or Paleo, diet. That diet encourages people to eat only whole, unprocessed foods like those available to humans in the Stone Age.

Adding protein may cost restaurants more, however, as costs for beef and pork have climbed this year. The Bloomberg Protein Index, which tracks the prices of steak, beans, bacon and nine other protein sources, gained 5 percent this year through May.

Taco Bell is planning to test Greek yogurt with granola, as well as breakfast steak burritos and bowls in Omaha, Nebraska, as a part of the protein bill of fare. If the test goes well, the chain may introduce it nationwide next year.

Yum shares fell 0.9 percent to $82.47 at the close in New York today. The stock has climbed 9.1 percent this year.

Panera’s Power Menu includes a chicken hummus bowl and steak lettuce wraps, while Zoe’s Kitchen Inc. sells a protein power plate with grilled chicken, onions and slaw. Foodmakers including Kraft Foods Group Inc.’s Oscar Mayer brand and Kellogg Co. also have jumped on the trend and are selling protein-specific items.