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Taco Bell Names New CEO and More Industry News

Taco Bell Names New CEO and More Industry News


This week in industry news, Taco Bell’s president Brian Niccol will be promoted to CEO, Red Robin's profit went up 26 percent, and Mizkan Group will acquire Ragu and Bertolli from Unilever PLC for approximately $2.15 billion.

Read on for more of this week's biggest financial news in the world of food.

Earnings

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc.: In the first quarter, the company's profit went up 26 percent due to its new line of premium Black Angus burgers and successful advertising efforts.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Panzica Building Corp.

Leadership Change

Taco Bell Corp.: The company’s president Brian Niccol will be promoted to CEO, effective Jan. 1, 2015, replacing Greg Creed, who will become CEO of parent company Yum! Brands Inc.

Darden Restaurant Inc.: Investor Starboard Value, which owns 6.2 percent of Darden’s shares, announced that it plans to replace all 12 members on Darden’s board of directors with its own picks. This follows Darden’s decision last week to sell Red Lobster to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion, which Starboard stated it did not approve of.

Smashburger: David Biederman, who previously headed Smashburger’s construction and development, has been promoted to the newly created position of chief development officer.

Corner Bakery Café: Michael J. Nolan, former Panera Bread and Bloomin’ Brands Inc. executive, has been named executive vice president and chief development officer of Corner Bakery Café.

Hostess Brands, L.L.C.: The company hired William Toler, former CEO of AdvancePierre Foods and president of Pinnacle Foods Finance L.L.C., as its new president and CEO.

Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.: Pepperidge Farm’s president Irene Chang Britt has been named to the board of directors of Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.

Mergers/Acquisitions

TGI Fridays: Carlson will sell TGI Fridays to Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Guillermo Buelna

Mizkan Group: The company will acquire Ragu and Bertolli from Unilever PLC for approximately $2.15 billion. The sale agreement includes the sale of a sauce processing and packaging plant in Owensboro, Ky., and a tomato processing facility in Stockton, Calif.

Have the inside scoop on a merger or acquisition? Know of a new advertising campaign around a new iconic product? We’re always looking to get ahead of the game, so email us your tips.

Haley WIllard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.


KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut parent names new CEO

The triple-brand powerhouse, Yum Brands, will see a changing of the guard in 2020 after the company announced its current CEO Greg Creed will retire.

Pictured left to right is outgoing Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed, with incoming CEO David Gibbs. (Photo provided)

Yum Brands, parent company of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut said late Monday it will start the new year with a new CEO when current CEO Greg Creed retires and current President and COO David Gibbs officially assumes the top position.

The company's board unanimously elected Gibbs to fill the top spot and assume a position on the board beginning Nov. 1, according to a press release.

Creed, 62, will retire after 25 years at the triple-brand powerhouse, while Gibbs, 55, steps into the role from his current duties overseeing all three brands' global divisions. Creed was named CEO in January 2015 and Gibbs credits him with leading the brands through major turning points in their collective success.

"I've had the privilege of partnering with our franchisees to grow the three iconic brands within the Yum Brands portfolio for over 30 years and am honored to follow in Greg's footsteps," Gibbs said in the release. "It's thanks to Greg's terrific leadership and innovative brand building during some of the most pivotal moments in our history that Yum! Brands has emerged as a vibrant and industry-leading growth company.

"I'm grateful that Greg and I have had the good fortune to build on the legacy of our co-founder David Novak — a strong foundation of three iconic brands and the positive recognition culture he established after our company's spinoff from PepsiCo in 1997."

During the course of his leadership, Creed successfully executed the 2016 spinoff of Yum China, which was a key move toward the company's transformation to a business model that has been more than 98% franchised since 2017, the release said. He is also credited with improving the company's G&A efficiency and significantly reducing capital expenditures.

Creed came to the CEO role from his previous position as CEO of the global Taco Bell Division, where he is credited with leading the brand's transformation into a sector leader.

"No other retailer in the world is like Yum! Brands, with our iconic global brands, category leadership, massive scale and uniquely diversified portfolio," Creed said in the release. "I'm proud of how we're emerging from our multi-year transformation as a more focused, franchised and efficient growth company. The best of Yum! is still to come and I'm delighted we have an exceptional leader like David who will drive the next wave of growth for our company."

Creed, who will remain in the top spot through the end of the year, will also serve as a part-time advisor next year and remain on the board. As Yum! Brands CEO, Gibbs will assume responsibility for company strategy, structure, people development and culture, with a focus on driving global growth, sales and profitability

"The board and I are confident that David Gibbs is the ideal leader to drive the next chapter of global growth for the company," said Yum Brands Non-Executive Chair and Target Corporation CEO Brian Cornell, in the release. "He has played a central role in all that Yum! Brands has accomplished over the past several years and understands the need to put customers, employees, franchisees and shareholders at the center of everything."

Creed added that Gibbs has a passion for the company's worldwide business and brands and qualifies an "outstanding commercial leader."

"He has been an invaluable strategic partner to me during our transformation and instrumental in shaping our global strategy, accelerating the pace of global new unit development, executing our transformation goals and laying a strong foundation for future growth," Creed said. "Importantly, David lives and breathes our people-first culture and is determined to take it to the next level."

Gibbs is a 30-year veteran of the company and has held leadership roles at all three brands in everything from global strategy and finance to general management, operations and real estate. He was named to the COO spot earlier this year, but previously served as the company's president and CFO. He is credited with creating the company's financial, refranchising and restaurant development strategy to transform Yum Brands into what the company called a "capital-light, pure-play franchisor."

"Because of our journey to become more focused, franchised and efficient, we're now in the best position we've ever been in to accelerate growth and improve franchise unit economics, but we still have more to achieve," Gibbs said in the release. "Everywhere we operate, we need to continue elevating and investing in a world-class customer experience, with unrivaled talent, modern assets, the best operations and innovative technology. This effort is only achievable through a strong partnership with our more than 2,000 franchisees who run 98 percent of our restaurants globally and employ more than 1.5 million restaurant team members who work for our brands around the world."

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Yum Brands

Yum Brands owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

"We don't need to do an acquisition to build scale. We already have scale," David Gibbs, Yum Brands' president and chief financial officer, told Business Insider in December.

Gibbs says he believes scale is becoming increasingly important. For example, the company's scale helped make possible its deal with GrubHub, in which Yum Brands purchased a $200 million stake in the delivery company.

"That's why you're seeing so many other companies go out and try to acquire new concepts just to try and build their own scale," Gibbs said.


Trending this week: Taco Bell unveils development plan and more on when the Restaurant Revitalization Fund applications are opening up

Here are some of the news stories trending this week on NRN.com.

Taco Bell announced development plans for the year and decade ahead, which “prioritize digital elements” for on-the-go customers, including a national rollout of the previously announced Go Mobile store prototype, and the grand opening of the first-ever drive-thru Cantina earlier this year.

Tara Comonte is stepping down as president and chief financial officer of Shake Shack Inc. to become CEO of a private company outside the restaurant industry. Her duties will be redistributed among current executives as a search for a replacement gets underway.

Darden Restaurants Inc. said it was offering $17 million in one-time bonuses to hourly workers and raising the pay floor for its non-tipped employees as restaurant companies beginning to add back workers let go in the COVID-19 pandemic.

To check out what else happened this past week, click through the gallery to see what was trending on Nation's Restaurant News.


Chipotle shares rally after burrito chain taps Taco Bell CEO to be its new chief

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill skyrocketed as much as 12 percent after the bell on Tuesday after the burrito company said it was tapping Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as its new chief executive.

"Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business," current CEO and founder Steve Ells said in a statement. "His expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant."

Niccol joined Taco Bell in 2011 and served as president of the brand from 2013 to 2014 before taking the helm as CEO in Jan. 2015. Niccol was responsible for repositioning Taco Bell as a lifestyle brand and launching the chain's breakfast offerings.

"Today's Gen Z and millennial generations consider restaurants a lifestyle choice," Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry trend expert, told CNBC via email. "These younger consumers are looking for a connection to brands. While Chipotle's quality position has been challenged through food safety issues, Taco Bell continues to provide value and innovation."

No doubt, the company hopes to win back some of the millennial customers Chipotle lost to Taco Bell.

In addition, Niccol will bring his experience with digital innovation, having introduced mobile ordering and payment across Taco Bell's 7,000 locations in the U.S.

"In addition, Yum's investment in GrubHub and early work with companies like DoorDash shows that he understands where incremental growth is coming from today, with delivery being the cornerstone for big opportunities over the several years and something that could benefit Chipotle," David Henkes, principal at Technomic, told CNBC via email.

Prior to working at Taco Bell, Niccol held leadership positions at Pizza Hut, another Yum Brand company.

Shares of Yum Brands remained unchanged after the bell.

In a statement, Niccol said he wanted Chipotle to provide a "consistently great" customer experience.

"I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle's cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications," he said. "This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees."

The two brands currently conjure up starkly different images. Chipotle has cultivated an image of a brand that is obsessed with using high-quality ingredients and has been slow to innovate. Taco Bell, however, is known for its quirky, limited-time only menu items that include the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which features a taco shell made out of fried chicken.

"Taco Bell's sales were up 5 percent last year, growing nearly $500 million, and Niccol's been instrumental in looking at new avenues for growth – like breakfast – and has overseen the chain's menu innovation activities, which have really helped drive traffic and sales growth," Henkes said.

Niccol could help Chipotle into delve into breakfast, late night, delivery and menu innovation.

Neil Saunders, managing partner at GlobalData, expects Niccol to bring both operational discipline and fresh thinking to Chipotle at a time when it needs it most.

"Investors will be relieved to have stability at the top and, all being well, this should usher in a less dramatic period for the company," he said.

But, that's no easy task. Chipotle has struggled of late to win customers back after reports of a norovirus outbreak at its Sterling, Virginia, restaurant circulated in July, once again dinging the chain's reputation. The company has faced numerous foodborne illness outbreaks since 2015.

Last week, Chipotle was hit with a slew of downgrades from stock analysts, who felt the company's latest earnings were more evidence that the chain wasn't making headway in bringing back diners.

Menu price hikes helped bolster Chipotle's sales in the fourth quarter, despite slowing foot traffic. The company said last Tuesday it expects traffic will continue to decline through the middle of the year.

"The new CEO inherits a mass of problems," Saunders said. "Mr. Niccol has a mountain to climb and his appointment will not automatically solve all of the company's issues. However, it is a good first step on the journey to recovery."

Ells will remain with the company as executive chairman and plans to oversee innovation now that a new CEO has been selected. However, some analysts have worried that Ells will not be able to distance himself from the post and will cause conflict with any incoming CEO.

Ells founded the restaurant chain in 1993, and has since played multiple roles, serving as co-CEO at one point. In 2009, he shared the role with Monty Moran. Last year, he became the sole CEO of Chipotle once again.


'RIP Taco Bell': People tweet homemade recipes to boycott chain, show support for employee who says he was fired for Black Lives Matter mask

Twitter is sharing homemade recipes for Taco Bell meals in solidarity with an employee who says he was fired after refusing to remove his Black Lives Matter face mask.

The hashtags #RIPTacoBell and #TacoBellIsOverParty were trending Thursday with photos of copycat recipes for Crunchwrap Supremes (including a vegan version), Baja Blast beverages and a quesadilla sauce from people supporting a Black man named Denzel Skinner.

Last week, Skinner filmed an argument with a female coworker at the Ohio restaurant on Facebook Live from his parked car. Wearing the mask in question, Skinner says in the June 8 video (with expletives), “I’m legit being fired because I have a Black Lives Matter [mask] on.”

According to Skinner, Taco Bell allows employees to wear “any type of mask” and that his other mask restricts his breathing. He said that when he arrived at work, he was told by a coworker “You can’t wear that mask” but he “blew it off.”

When the employee appears off-camera, Skinner says, “You just fired me because I got a Black Lives Matter mask on. Are you serious? You told me I could go home.”

“You told me you weren’t going to take it off, replies the off-camera voice, to which Skinner says, “I’m not. Because I’m standing up for what’s right.”

The woman says, “You can’t bring politics into the building.” When Skinner again refuses to remove it, she says, “OK. Well, then there’s nothing I can do for you” and “I’m just doing my job. You don’t get it” adding, “It’s a company thing.”

“Would you like somebody to wear something that said something about white people on it?” she asks.

“If that’s what they stand for, yes,” Skinner replies.

Skinner said in his video that he plans to search for a lawyer. “I got fired over a mask,” he says incredulously. “. I can’t make this up.” Before turning off the camera, he says, “Keep standing up for what you all think is right.”

In support of Skinner, people unearthed copycat Taco Bell recipes to encourage people to satisfy their cravings at home.

anyway Taco Bell is trash, here's a recipe for a vegan Crunchwrap Supreme https://t.co/EXicRZc1YA

— sir this is a radio shed (@xylodemon) June 18, 2020

Baja Blast recipe at home:
-8 ounces Mountain Dew
- 3 ounces Powerade Berry Blast
- 6 ounces ice
BLEND BITCH. #RIPTacoBell pic.twitter.com/lH0OZyvbEx

— brooke ❁ josh day (@THEPIL0TZ) June 18, 2020

Since #BlackLivesMattter and Taco Bell sucks, here’s a copy cat quesadilla sauce recipe that is PERFECT #RIPTacoBell pic.twitter.com/UXqmyhiuSu

— AB♣️ (@alyssabernstein) June 18, 2020

Bonus Copycat Taco Bell Chili Cheese Burritohttps://t.co/nzOSNfu6GH

— #ICantBreathe (@Zimzalagrim) June 18, 2020

Yahoo Life could not reach Skinner for comment. A spokesperson from Taco Bell tells Yahoo Life in a statement, “We believe Black Lives Matter. We were disappointed to learn about the incident that took place in Youngstown, OH. We take this very seriously we have been working closely with our franchisee that operates this location to address the issue. Our Chief People Officer and Yum!’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer spoke with Denzel last week to apologize and discuss the situation. Our goal is to ensure our policies are inclusive and keep our team members and customers safe. While our policies at restaurants do not prohibit Team Members from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, we are working to clarify our mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.”

Related Video: The History of Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos

The company did not clarify its face mask policy or state whether Skinner was terminated or re-hired when asked by Yahoo Life. Additionally, Yahoo Life also could not reach a spokesperson from Taco Bell’s parent company Yum Brands for comment.

In a June 2 tweet, Taco Bell CEO Mark King said, in part, “We don’t tolerate racism or violence against Black people. We’re committed to being part of long-term solutions. And we have more work to do.”

Read the full letter from our CEO, Mark King.

We're muting our channels for the rest of the week to reflect, learn, and listen.

— Taco Bell (@tacobell) June 2, 2020

Read more from Yahoo Life:


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Here's how Chipotle could change when Taco Bell's CEO takes over

Brian Niccol, who leaves behind Taco Bell on his way to the top spot at Chipotle, knows a thing or two about taking a chance to score high with consumers.

The 43-year-old came to the restaurant industry with an engineering degree, an MBA in business and a 10-year stint at consumer products giant Procter & Gamble.

At P&G he made a name for himself for his work in brand management after he launched a Scope mouthwash campaign that sent animated kisses to customers via email, according to the Los Angeles Times. This stunt was the first of its kind.

This technological and marketing innovation was not a one-off for Niccol. In 2005, he moved to Yum Brands, first taking on several posts at Pizza Hut before transitioning to Taco Bell in 2011.

Once there, Niccol introduced mobile ordering and payment across Taco Bell's 7,000 locations in the U.S. and reached an agreement with franchisees to finance new tech initiatives, including self-serve kiosks and expanded delivery.

"We always aim to stay relevant with changing consumer tastes and trends, whether that be creating innovative menu items or offering the latest technology that connects customers to our brand when they want it, where they want it," Niccol said in a statement at the time.

While at Yum, Niccol also made investments in Grubhub and worked with companies such as DoorDash. These connections could be a boon for Chipotle as it seeks to compete with other fast casual restaurants and quick-service chains that are steadily rolling out delivery initiatives. Chipotle has lagged rivals such as Panera Bread in adopting new technology.

Niccol has already experienced the hiccups associated with adopting new systems, and he's not shied away from being one of the first to make a move. At Pizza Hut, Niccol launched online ordering, realizing that it had two major benefits — accuracy and convenience. At the time, selling pizza online was only being done by a company in New Zealand, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Today, all the big pizza companies are huge in the online space," he told the Times in 2015. "It just shows the power of technology."

Niccol isn't just a tech guru. When he moved to Taco Bell he changed the company's slogan from "Think outside the bun" to "Live Mas," the Times reported.

This rallying cry for innovation was just the beginning. Niccol would go on to reposition the fast-food Mexican chain as a lifestyle brand, launch the chain's breakfast offerings and push for more ingenuity in the kitchen.

He was the driving force behind some of Taco Bell's most wildly successful limited-time menu offerings such as the Quesarito, Naked Chicken Chalupa and Nacho Fries. He's also the reason Doritos Locos Tacos, which started as a limited-time-only offer, have graduated to a fixture on the fast food chain's menu.

Niccol is known for encouraging employees to pitch ideas. According to The Wall Street Journal, Niccol once visited a Taco Bell and saw that employees were using tortillas to make miniature wraps. This became the inspiration for Taco Bell's crunchwrap sliders.

"Taco Bell's sales were up 5 percent last year, growing nearly $500 million, and Niccol's been instrumental in looking at new avenues for growth — like breakfast — and has overseen the chain's menu innovation activities, which have really helped drive traffic and sales growth," David Henkes, principal at Technomic, told CNBC via email.

The hope is that starting March 5, Niccol can bring these innovations to Chipotle.

"Based on his track record of success in leading Taco Bell (where he has served as CEO since January 2015) and a range of other consumer-focused businesses (e.g., Pizza Hut, multiple brands at Procter & Gamble), we believe Niccol brings highly relevant skill sets in the areas of marketing and operations that can help CMG to address the primary issues that have weighed on traffic trends since the late-2015 food safety incidents," David Tarantino, analyst at Baird, wrote in a research note Wednesday.

In a statement Tuesday, Niccol said he wanted Chipotle to provide a "consistently great" customer experience.

Customers, especially from younger generations, aren't just looking for mobile ordering and quirky new menu items, they also want a personal connection with brands.

A person familiar with the matter told the Journal that Niccol plans to use social media to make Chipotle "more youthful and culturally relevant."

Taco Bell has thrived on tongue-in-cheek Twitter posts, partnerships with brands such as Forever21 to deliver a limited-time clothing line, and quirky marketing, such as its trailer for "Web of Fries," which it used to promote its new Nacho Fries menu item.

"We expect that Mr. Niccol will lean on his past success driving sales at Taco Bell with breakfast, aggressive value, limited-time-offers and compelling marketing to help improve trends at Chipotle," Peter Saleh, analyst at BTIG, wrote in a research note Wednesday.

Neil Saunders, managing partner at GlobalData, expects Niccol to bring both operational discipline and fresh thinking to Chipotle at a time when it needs it most.

"Investors will be relieved to have stability at the top and, all being well, this should usher in a less dramatic period for the company," he said.

Of course, these changes won't happen overnight for the brand. Chipotle has struggled for more than two years to win customers back after a number of food-safety issues trampled traffic and sales.

While menu price increases helped Chipotle in the fourth quarter, the company expects traffic to continue to lag through the middle of the year.

"We believe the appointment of Brian Niccol as CEO is a step in the right direction for Chipotle, though we don't expect his hiring will result in any material change in fundamentals until at least 2019," Saleh wrote.

Guggenheim analyst Matthew Difrisco maintained his sell rating on the stock Wednesday, writing in a note to analysts that he doesn't foresee Chipotle turning a "180" on its current plans.

"The addition of Mr. Niccol should bolster marketing, digital and franchisor experience but in our opinion, the brand under his leadership needs to broaden its senior operating team with outside additions to lead the about 2,400 company-operated restaurants," he wrote.


Taco Bell CEO Mark King on Tapping Into the Human Element of Operations

Scott Greenberg's The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar, is out now via Entrepreneur Press and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Besides offering great products and instituting solid systems, most standout franchises have also mastered the human side of their business. They understand people &ndash employees, customers and especially their franchisees.

As a longtime franchisee and franchise coach myself, I sought out current Taco Bell CEO Mark King to learn more about the venerable fast-food chain's journey to the top. Here are excerpts from our recent conversation.

What's the foremost thing Taco Bell has done to become such a highly rated franchise?

Our franchise partners are key players in how we grow the business together and create unforgettable guest experiences. As a system, we are consistently pushing the boundaries within the industry to be a brand beyond fast food. We deliver profitable growth for our franchisees.

What does Taco Bell do to promote a strong culture within its franchise community?

Franchisees play an important role in building our culture, and we always want them to know that they can come to us with new ideas or challenges and that we&rsquoll work together on a gameplan. The relationship we have with our franchisees allows us to quickly implement new elements to the business and makes Taco Bell a trusted partner.

How would you describe the mindset of your top franchise owners?

Our top franchisees are hungry for innovation and new technology. We love their pioneer-like spirit, and it fuels so much passion internally. We engage with our franchisees across all areas of the business and provide them with the support they need to grow their business.

Quick-service restaurants are not necessarily known for providing great customer experiences. What does Taco Bell do to stand out and make customers happy?

We like to think that our brand embodies the spirit of an eternal 25-year-old: always youthful, always fun and always positive. We also know that our team members are our greatest brand ambassadors and always want to make sure that they&rsquore working in an environment that matches the spirit of the brand. Additionally, we&rsquore always listening to consumer insights and provide menu offerings that make Taco Bell the go-to destination for fans of all lifestyles.

How have you navigated through the pandemic and what have you done to support franchisees during this time?

Throughout the pandemic, Taco Bell has worked with our franchisees to make major pivots quickly and efficiently, which is a true testament to our partnership. Taco Bell communicates with franchise partners through regular internal communications and virtual meetings to share updates on the business as the world quickly changes. We work in lock-step with our franchisees at all times in order to make sure our restaurants are the safest place to work and eat. Taco Bell implemented more safety measures on top of our rigorous procedures with our customers and team members in mind, like contactless ordering and payment.

What advice do you have for other franchise organizations about mastering the human side of their business?

Building a strong relationship with your franchise partners is pivotal to growing the business. Listen and implement the feedback from your franchisees as the business continues to evolve.

Any other final thoughts or comments?

We couldn&rsquot be the brand that we are today without our franchise partners. We&rsquore proud of the work we&rsquove done together so far, and we&rsquore looking forward to continuing collaborating and building a bright future.


Chipotle names Brian Niccol as CEO

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. named Brian Niccol as CEO as of March 5, the company said Tuesday.

Niccol most recently served as CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell Corp., the division of Yum! Brands Inc. He succeeds Steve Ells, founder and CEO of the Denver-based Chipotle, who announced in November he would step down.

Niccol has served as Taco Bell CEO role at Taco Bell since January 2015, when his predecessor Greg Creed became CEO of parent Yum.

"Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business,” said Ells, who will become Chipotle’s executive chairman, in a statement.

“His expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant,” Ells said.

Niccol said he was excited to join Chipotle.

“I have tremendous respect for the Chipotle brand and its powerful purpose,” Niccol said. “At Chipotle's core is delicious food, which I will look to pair up with consistently great customer experiences. I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle's cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications. This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees.”

Niccol joined Taco Bell in 2011 and served as president from 2013 to 2014. He launched such products as breakfast and the company’s social media across 7,000 restaurants.

Prior to Taco Bell, Niccol held leadership roles at Pizza Hut, including vice president of strategy, chief marketing officer and general manager. Niccol began his career at Procter & Gamble, where he spent 10 years in various brand management positions.

Chipotle has faced declines sales and traffic since several food-borne illness outbreaks in 2015 and 2016.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Chipotle’s same-store sales increased 0.9 percent, which the company partially attributed to menu price increases. Net income for the quarter was $43.8 million, or $1.55 per share, compared with $16 million, or .55 per share, the previous year.

As of Dec. 31, Chipotle, founded in 1993, had 2,406 restaurants.

With Niccol's departure, Yum Brands said Julie Felss Masino, president of Taco Bell North America, and Liz Williams, president of Taco Bell International, will assume leadership at the company's quick-service Mexican division.

“As Brian moves on to another opportunity, we’re grateful he has built a world-class leadership team," said Creed in a statement.

“I’m confident that Julie, an accomplished brand builder and restaurant industry executive, and Liz, a strong brand veteran, are well positioned to ensure a seamless transition and will continue to elevate Taco Bell into a distinctive, relevant and easy brand."

Update Feb. 13, 2018: This story has added comment from Yum Brands on leadership at Taco Bell.


Ingredients in Taco Bell’s meat aren’t mysterious

Taco Bell fans have spent the last week wondering what’s really in their meals after a lawsuit was filed alleging that the popular fast-food chain’s meat contains a whole lot of mystery.

Some consumers cringed at the term “taco meat filling,” which is how the lawsuit says Taco Bell should advertise its seasoned beef. It alleges that the product contains mostly substances other than beef.

Taco Bell Corp., a Yum Brands Inc. subsidiary based in Irvine, has fired back, refuting the lawsuit’s allegations and defending its menu ingredients.

As it turns out, the lawsuit’s allegations — and the stomach-churning terminology — hinge partly on regulatory language that is meant to be used by manufacturers for labeling purposes, not restaurants. There also aren’t any hard rules that define what a company or restaurant can advertise as meat.

“Obviously you know it’s not 100% organic food,” said Taco Bell customer Bethany Weis, 23, of Chicago. “I know it’s not good for me. I still like it.”

In striking back against the suit, Taco Bell states that its beef recipe is 88% beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients. Some of those “other ingredients” aren’t things you are likely to add to your own beef for family taco night, but several experts say the additives are quite common in processed foods.

Alabama attorney W. Daniel “Dee” Miles III started the beef brouhaha after filing a false-advertising suit that contends Taco Bell mislabels its products by telling consumers they are eating “beef” or “seasoned ground beef” despite having the product labeled internally as “taco meat filling.”

That jargony term comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a 202-page labeling and policy book that is designed to help manufacturers prepare product labels that are truthful and not misleading.

According to the USDA, which regulates the nation’s meat supply, “taco meat filling” is required to contain at least 40% fresh meat and must be labeled with the product name, including the word “filling.”

But that requirement applies to raw meat sold by manufacturers. The USDA doesn’t regulate what companies such as restaurants can describe to their customers in advertisements as “beef,” “chicken” or “meat,” USDA press officer Neil Gaffney said.

The Federal Trade Commission is the agency that regulates whether advertising is deceptive. The FTC has no specific rules that define what can be advertised as meat or beef, said Betsy Lordan, an FTC spokeswoman.

In the lawsuit, Miles includes what appears to be a label from Taco Bell’s raw meat mixture, which reads “taco meat filling.”

Miles said in an interview that he had the company’s meaty mix tested and found that, overall, 15% was protein. Miles wouldn’t turn over his laboratory reports to Tribune Newspapers, and after the story became a nationwide phenomenon, he stopped answering questions about it.

But that low percentage might not be as surprising as it sounds. Ground beef alone is more than half composed of naturally occurring water, according to the USDA. And it’s common for food manufacturers to add seasonings and other ingredients to food, said Susan Brewer, a professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It’s completely expected that meat would contain about 12% protein, with most of the rest being water and fat, Brewer said. “Protein is not the major component,” she said.

And if you’ve ever had a Taco Bell taco, or any taco for that matter, you know the brown, spicy meat mixture contains more than just beef.

In its public-relations rebuttal to the lawsuit, Taco Bell said its seasoned beef includes “ingredients you’d find in your home or in the supermarket aisle.” It goes on to name ingredients that sound reasonable: salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, sugar, garlic powder, even cocoa powder.

But there are also some seasoned beef ingredients Taco Bell left out of its national ad campaign last week to refute allegations in the lawsuit — ingredients you might have a tough time finding in your home pantry or grocery store.

Soy lecithin, for example. It’s a byproduct of soybean processing that is used as an emulsifier. That means it helps blend and bind substances that would otherwise separate, like oil and water.

And then there’s autolyzed yeast extract. Made by breaking down yeast cells with salt, it’s a flavor-enhancing additive similar to monosodium glutamate, without the side effects of MSG some people experience. It gives foods a full, savory, beeflike taste, Brewer said.

Maltodextrin is derived from starches, usually corn in the U.S. It can be used as a sweetener and a thickener.

Isolated oat product is a binder, kind of like how an egg is used in homemade hamburgers or meatballs so they don’t fall apart in the pan. And soybean oil is used as an anti-dusting agent, meaning it prevents finely ground, powdery ingredients from billowing into the air, as would happen if you clapped flour-coated hands.

Caramel color is caramelized sugar used to give the mixture a consistent brown appearance, Brewer said. Heating some of the ingredients, such as cocoa powder and chili pepper, causes them to change colors and potentially combine to turn the mixture a hue the customer wouldn’t like, she said. It doubles as a flavor component.

Betsy Booren, director of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute, said “natural smoke flavor” can be added by burning wood chips, capturing the smoke and piping it into the oven where meat is cooking, similar to how you burn wood chips to give smoky flavor to meats on a backyard grill. The same aroma can also be captured in a viscous liquid that can later be sprayed onto meat to give it a smoky flavor, the method probably used for ground beef, Booren said.

Taco Bell declined to comment specifically on why it used each ingredient. “The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality,” it said in a national ad campaign. “Otherwise we’d end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn’t make for great-tasting tacos.”

Asked if there was anything unusual in the ingredient list of Taco Bell’s seasoned beef or anything consumers should be wary of, Brewer said, “Nope. It’s exactly what I would expect.”

Brewer said it was not in the food industry’s self interest to deceive the public or use ingredients they don’t want because reputation is crucial. “It’s like generating a bad reputation when you’re a sophomore in high school,” she said. “It’s probably not fixable.”

Kathryn Kotula, senior investigative food scientist at consultant Investigative Food Sciences in Storrs, Conn., said she had no issue with ingredients in Taco Bell’s seasoned beef. “There’s nothing on the list that’s unusual,” she said.

Still, a few of the advertising claims by Taco Bell and other restaurants have unspecific, if not misleading, meanings — though they weren’t topics in the lawsuit.

For example, Taco Bell and others are fond of saying their beef is 100% USDA inspected, as if that’s a sign of quality. However, the term is mostly meaningless. USDA inspection for beef is mandatory and paid for with U.S. tax dollars. In fact, a USDA official has to be onsite when a meat processing plant is operating.

The term “USDA inspected” does not address the quality of a hamburger, for example, because — for the most part — there’s no such thing as ground beef that’s not USDA inspected.

“No one has a product that’s not inspected,” said Jessica Gentry Carter, a professor of animal science at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

The term “100%" beef — also “all beef” and “pure beef"— may be misleading too, depending on what you assume it means. Cooked ground beef can be 55% to 60% water, according to the USDA. And 100% beef claims don’t refer to the final product because fast-food chains add a number of substances for flavor, texture, color or as preservatives.

Beef can also contain minor amounts of bone, blood vessels, cartilage and nerves, Brewer said. Ground beef, in particular, is often made of the less-desirable parts of a steer, the parts that aren’t use for steaks and roasts, as well as scraps trimmed from those steaks and roasts, she said.

Part of the public’s reaction to the Taco Bell seasoned beef controversy might simply be Americans’ ignorance about where food comes from, several experts said. People are becoming more divorced from agriculture as they dine out more, don’t cook from scratch and don’t read labels when they do cook.

“We have such a weird attitude toward meat,” said Ken Albala, a food historian at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. “We want to eat meat. It’s quintessentially American. But we have no desire to know where it comes from at all.”


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