this Feb. 20th photo, diners eat at U.S. Taco Co., which is
owned by Taco Bell, in Huntington Beach, Calif. As people
increasingly reach for foods that stray from the norm and seem
less processed, some companies are testing whether it would
pay to tuck away their famous logos in favor of more hipster
BEACH, Calif. - At a taco shop in Southern California, milkshakes
are served in mason jars and a chalkboard menu lists "The
1%er" made with lobster meat.
logo is a pink skull and instead of buzzers, customers are given
license plates so servers can identify them when bringing out
is it evident that the U.S. Taco Co. is an outpost of a chain better
known for cheesy gut bombs: Taco Bell.
companies are testing whether it would pay to tuck away their world
famous logos in favor of more hipster guises: PepsiCo, for instance,
introduced a craft soda called Caleb's last year and McDonald's
opened a cafe that lists lentils and eggplant on its menu. The
stealth efforts reflect the pressures on the country's biggest food
makers, which are contending with the surging popularity of smaller
brands that position themselves as decidedly less corporate.
big food companies, the low-key efforts are a way feel out changing
tastes and cozy up to new customers, particularly those in their 20s
and 30s. Among that age group, marketing experts say there's a
growing preference for qualities like "real" and
"authentic." Additionally, millennials aren't as impressed
by big brands when it comes to food, and instead take pride in
discovering and sharing new places and products with friends on
social media networks.
such, Allen Adamson of Landor Associates, a brand consulting firm,
said companies should keep the images for their latest efforts
smaller and more niche: "You don't want to scream from the
mountain top that you're Pepsi."
Pepsi cola — which has suffered sales declines since 1998,
according to Beverage Digest — PepsiCo's Caleb's Kola comes in a
glass bottle and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of
high-fructose corn syrup.
are no signs the drink is from the maker of Mountain Dew and
Gatorade, and the bottles bear the words "Honor In Craft."
Hammit, who heads Caleb's Kola at PepsiCo, said Caleb's was the
creation of a group of "Kola Nuts" at the company who were
passionate about making a cola that "takes pride in every
also decided not to use its name recognition when it opened The
Corner late last year.
restaurant in Australia has a minimalist white exterior and serves
dishes like Moroccan roast chicken, chipotle pulled pork and lentil
and eggplant salad. The only sign it's owned by McDonald's is the
"McCafe" in small print at the bottom of the restaurant
spokeswoman Becca Hary said in an email the location is a
"learning lab" for testing "new and different food
and beverages never before seen in our restaurants."
Corner comes as McDonald's suffers ongoing sales struggles, with
global sales down 1 percent last year at established locations as
customer visits declined in regions around the world.
its part, Taco Bell said in an emailed statement that U.S. Taco's
opening was the result of a "segmentation study" that
found some people just don't want to eat at traditional fast-food
instead of trying to win them over with Taco Bell, a team known as
"intrapreneurs" at the company came up with an entirely
separate concept, which charges about $3 to $4 per taco.
shop in Huntington Beach, California caught the attention of
Christina Kaoh, a 30-year-old research coordinator who was in the
area paddle boarding with friends.
figured it's going to be a hip version of tacos," Kaoh said.
only learned it was owned by Taco Bell after reading an article that
mentioned the link in Mother Jones. Kaoh said she wouldn't go back
since she tries to support independent establishments, and didn't
particularly enjoy the food.
ownership of smaller brands by major corporations isn't a deal
breaker, of course. In the beer industry, Anheuser-Busch InBev in
2006 created Shock Top. Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business
Daily, said most people probably don't realize it's owned by the
maker of Bud Light. Even if they did, he said it wouldn't matter now
that Shock Top is established enough to have its own following.
other cases, companies acquire smaller, fast-growing rivals to tap
into trends. But acquisitions can be costly and come with risks,
particularly at a time when food trends seem to be changing at an
accelerating pace. By developing a brand in house, companies can
test the waters without making as much of a financial commitment. If
they're lucky, it takes off and becomes a hit.
the manufacturing of authenticity can get clumsy.
Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, as well as KFC and Pizza
Hut, last year opened a Vietnamese sandwich shop in Dallas, Texas.
The shop's red star logo — a common symbol of communism —
immediately upset the local Vietnamese community.
food blogger for the Orange County Register called the goof by Yum
"unbelievable," noting that most the Vietnamese living
overseas are refugees from the Vietnam War and hate the country's
quickly apologized and removed the logo.