How Taco Bell Spent Two Years Perfecting The ‘Cheese Pull’

Taco Bell went to great lengths to perfect what it calls the “cheese pull,” the vivid image of the cheese that stretches between two halves of a Quesalupa when it’s pulled apart.

Taco Bell not only wants the pepper jack cheese stuffed into the fried shell of its flagship new menu item, the Quesalupa, to stretch when you pull it apart; it’s become a matter of company policy. The fast food chain spent two years perfecting the technique of what chief food innovation and beverage officer Liz Matthews calls “the cheese-pully thing,” reported Bloomberg.

Mastering the art of the “cheese pull” on the quesadilla-chalupa combo item wasn’t easy. To begin with, the perfect Quesalupa’s shell has to be fried in canola oil for 90 seconds, and after it’s prepared it cannot be allowed to sit for more than 15 minutes, or else the cheese will harden, and fail to create the satisfying image of a cheesy web when separated.

“It’s got to have an amazing, delicious cheese pull in every bite,” Matthews said in an interview quoted by Bloomberg.

Of course, the “cheese pull” is no cheesy matter. There are literally billions of dollars at stake.

Taco Bell is taking this new aspect of their marketing campaign and public image very seriously; the $5 million Super Bowl ad it took out to plug the Quesalupa was its most expensive ever. The Quesalupa is the centerpiece of its entire ad campaign for 2016, and according to the Bloomberg report, the chain’s parent company sees the “cheese pull” image as the key to Taco Bell’s continued success and profitability.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Cheese Pull to Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum! Brands Inc., which has a $33 billion market value and more than $13 billion in revenue last year. With Yum planning to spin off its China unit and growth otherwise slowing at Taco Bell’s siblings, KFC and Pizza Hut, it’s come down to this: The near-term performance of Yum depends on Taco Bell, and the performance of Taco Bell rests on The Cheese Pull.”

Steps have been taken to ensure that the Quesalupa’s gooey melted cheese measures up to Taco Bell’s ads. The company’s social media team has been extremely active in responding to any negative feedback or social media commentary regarding the “cheese pull” aspect of their entrees, particularly the Quesalupa, even to the point of sending instructions to specific restaurants if too many complaints are monitored in that area, as Business Insider notes.

“Taco Bell’s social media team closely watches the brand’s Twitter to keep an eye out for customers disappointed that their cheese pulls didn’t live up to ads. If they spot a complaint, it could lead to an email reminding staff not to overcook the tortilla or allow products to sit too long after being fried.”

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Taco Bell is set to open its first restaurant in China this year, and there are talks of expanding to Australia, too. Yum’s stock price has gone up 11 percent this year, beating the 1.4 percent growth projected by Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Taco Bell’s sales have also gone up 5 percent, as opposed to 1 percent and 3 percent for rivals Pizza Hut and KFC, respectively. The recent sales downfall of Chipotle in the wake of the E. coli and norovirus outbreaks also frees up the Mexican fast food market for Taco Bell to attract new consumers.

Taco Bell’s new Quesalupa comes at a time when Americans are consuming a record amount of cheese. Americans ate roughly 34.2 pounds per person in 2014, a 9.4 percent increase from a decade earlier.

[Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Taco Bell]

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