The high price of Mexican food in New Zealand is the reason why Tex-Mex fast-food chain Taco Bell did not launch its popular dollar-menu here.
Taco Bell's grand opening at LynnMall this morning attracted 300 people, who queued outside the door ahead of the 10am opening. Some eager diners were said to have camped outside the West Auckland store from 10pm yesterday.
In the United States, Taco Bell is known for its low-cost, namely its $1 and $2 burritos, menu items. These or a local low-cost equivalent were not revealed on the fast-food operator's local menu board today.
Taco Bell Asia Pacific managing director Ankush Tuli told the Herald the prices offered at Taco Bell in New Zealand were determined by the competition in the market, with Mexican-inspired food typically higher in price here compared to the United States.
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"Our brand sells affordable and accessible Mexican-inspired food at great value. I believe we are very competitive in the market context of New Zealand," Tuli, who is in New Zealand for the launch, said.
"The market in the US is different. New Zealand is at a different life stage, and given the life stage of the brand, we believe the prices are very competitive."
While Taco Bell does not currently offer a dollar-range menu popular overseas here, Tuli said it offered other deals such as the "Big Bell Box" consisting of five menu items for $12.
Burritos at Taco Bell sell from $7.99, or $12 for a combo, and burrito bowls from $8.99. It sells local and international beer, including Corona, Heineken and Moa craft beer, from $7.99 a bottle, and frozen margaritas for $8.99.
Tuli said Taco Bell had not ruled out launching a dollar-range menu here, similar to its US menu. "Taco Bell is known for exciting innovation and introducing new items. This is a great launch menu for us and we will be rolling out exciting menus as we expand."
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Taco Bell's launch into New Zealand marks its 30th country of operation. The brand is gaining significant momentum throughout the world, and has a reputation for being particularly popular among consumers who've imbibed a few too many beverages.
NZX-listed Restaurant Brands last year reached an agreement with Taco Bell Restaurants Brands Asia to bring the fast-food operator down under. Restaurant Brands already owns and operates 36 Taco Bell stores spread throughout Hawaii and Guam.
The company, which owns and operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Carl's Jr stores in New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, has big plans to roll out 60 Taco Bell stores throughout New Zealand and Australia in the next five years. The company plans to have at least 25 Taco Bell stores operating in the New Zealand market in that time.
By the end of next year, it hopes to have seven Taco Bell stores trading here. The next Taco Bell store will open on Auckland's Shortland St.
Restaurant Brands is set to spend at least $65 million on the Taco Bell roll-out in Australasia in the next five years, chief executive Russel Creedy told the Herald last month.
Taco Bell operates a predominantly drive-through style business in the United States. In Australia, most of its restaurants are drive-through. Tuli said the international model for the franchise was to have a sit-down restaurant, with alcoholic beverages on the menu a drawcard to encourage people to come in to dine.
"We're a lifestyle brand and that's why young millennials are loving it," he said. "Alcohol goes very well with that, it complements our food."
Tuli said Taco Bell would operate a mix of sit-down restaurants and drive-thru locations in the New Zealand market. Most would, however, be restaurant-style outlets modelled on 'Taco Bell Cantina' stores operating in the US, which served alcohol.
In the US, Taco Bell brews its own beer and has its own branded punch, under the name Beach Bell. Tuli said the chain had no plans to introduce the beer brand to the New Zealand market and would instead prefer to partner with local brewers.
"Going by the first day, we are delighted by the response. I believe New Zealand is ready to get taco-ed and its going to be the next big thing.
"Fans have been demanding and almost canvassing for Taco Bell to open here for many years, so I'm thrilled we can do that. Some people have been camping since 10pm last night, and we couldn't have asked for a better response."
Taco Bell did not foresee any challenges operating in the New Zealand market, Tuli said.
"I believe we're ready to scale-up."