Franchise News

Del Taco trots out turkey tacos, aiming at dieters

Del Taco says the turkey tacos are a first of its kind for any Mexican fast-food chain. The tacos contain 33 percent less fat than a standard beef taco with similar toppings.

Fast-food chains are at it again, pushing better-for-you meals to attract dieters seeking to shed pounds at the start of the year.

But instead of introducing ho-hum chicken salads and cheeseless sandwiches, Lake Forest-based Del Taco is taking one of the biggest risks by debuting a never-before-seen meal alternative at a major Mexican fast-food chain: turkey tacos.

Del Taco is offering consumers seasoned ground turkey for a limited time on tacos, burritos and its new CrunchTada Tostada.

John Cappasola, Del Taco's chief brand officer, said the 550-unit chain is capitalizing on a growing trend where many consumers are substituting ground turkey for beef when cooking Mexican dishes at home.

"We're going to watch it very closely," Cappasola said. "We have a sneaky suspicion it could be a big win for us."

The turkey taco contains 100 percent thigh meat ground and seasoned with the same spices used for the chain's beef tacos but with 33 percent less fat. The toppings — shredded cheese, lettuce and pico de gallo — are the same. But at $1.29, the turkey taco costs nearly 30 cents more than a standard beef or chicken taco.

"It's definitely more of a premium product," Cappasola said of the higher price.

Certified nutritionist Denise Canellos applauded the healthier option, though she cautioned consumers to eat fast food in moderation.

"Anytime we can get some of the fat — especially saturated fat — out of fast food is a good thing," she said.

But it is "still a fast-food taco," said Canellos, whose practice is in Irvine.

Fast-food consultant Dennis Lombardi said Del Taco's foray into seasoned ground turkey should attract consumers.

"It is certainly a protein that just about everyone is familiar with," said Lombardi, a restaurant consultant with Ohio-based WD Partners. "Competitors will watch carefully to see how it plays and works."

Del Taco's turkey taco comes as regional and national chains beef up their healthier food options — a traditional strategy in January.
Subway is promoting its Fresh Fit egg white breakfast options and "Heart Healthy" combo meals served with sliced apples and bottled water. Panera Bread recently added a line of "Power Bowls" that contain less than 400 calories.
Last week, El Pollo Loco introduced its "5 Meals Under 500 Calories Menu" at 400 restaurants in California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas. The Costa Mesa-based chicken chain said the menu is geared for calorie-counters who want more than a bland bowl of greens.
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