In the Doghouse

Taco Bell Moves to Rebrand with...Alcoholic Slushies

August 12, 2015

pink and blue for two
A new Taco Bell location in Chicago has confirmed that it will serve beer, wine, and frozen mixed alcoholic drinks, and branches in other cities such as San Francisco are following suit. Taco Bell is not the first food chain to experiment with alcohol service; Sonic, Burger King, Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Starbucks have too. Alcohol sales may not seem like much of a stretch for fast food chains when compared to convenience stores, often found in close vicinity and selling similar types of products: inexpensive, nutritionally-deficient, high-fat and high-calorie junk food accompanied by sugary, flavored, colored, icy beverages. Unlike a convenience store slushie, however, Taco Bell's frozen drink may also include wine, vodka, or tequila.

A subsidiary of YUM Brands along with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, Taco Bell explicitly promotes itself to youth, college students, and Millennials (the youngest of whom start at age 18). Chicago neighbors have expressed concerns that include increased underage access and open containers resulting from this alcohol-soaked brand expansion. In response, the company agreed to hire a security guard on weekend nights – basically a slap in the face of valid concerns of expanded alcohol outlet density and the alcohol-related harm that follows.

Residents are rightfully concerned about alcohol on the menu of a franchise with low prices, long hours, and high underage foot traffic, and do not want the resulting consequences of this potential influx of alcohol to affect their neighborhood. San Francisco residents have been outspoken as well, with 200 residents signing a petition against the new Taco Bell, and more than 240 residents sending official protest forms to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

Taco Bell aims to rebrand itself as unique, authentic, healthier, and more upscale. College age and young adult customers prefer places that are less cookie cutter and more authentic. The addition of alcohol to the Taco Bell menu increases the chain’s level of perceived authenticity, just as the lower-calorie menu items encourage the false perception of Taco Bell as a healthy choice. But adding alcoholic beverages to the menu cancels out any improvement from a few different (and unpopular) food choices. (By the way, Taco Bell: alcohol has calories and no nutrients, too.)

Taco Bell hopes its alcohol marketing ploy will bring in significant revenue, and additional fast food brands will come on board to do the same. The outcome? A steep and dangerous increase in alcohol outlet density and alcohol-related harm - and a disturbing public health problem. Adding alcohol to the menu of a fast food giant directly counters the US Community Preventive Services Task Force recommendations to prevent excess alcohol consumption and harm to individuals and communities.

With more than 5,800 locations in the US, and a brand known for the ease with which someone can swing by to pick up an inexpensive taco or twelve, Taco Bell adding alcohol to its menu will spell success for attracting the youth demographic, and disaster for public health.