With slogans some say are more memorable than their food such as "Yo quiero Taco Bell" and "Think Outside the Bun," Southern California-based fast food chain Taco Bell may have unknowingly created their most indelible campaign with two new summer beverages.
The national chain's Classic Margarita and Strawberry Margarita Frutista Freeze drinks have been marketed by the company as a way to “make any hour a happy hour” and coalition leaders are taking notice. From coast to coast, coalitions have kicked off a letter writing campaign to inform their local restaurants—there are more than 5,000 in the U.S. alone—and corporate headquarters in Irvine, Calif. that happy hour shouldn’t occur at any Taco Bell.
The frozen margarita-flavored drinks topped with a fresh lime wedge come in two different sizes, a 16 or 20oz. cup, and contain no alcohol and no fruit juice, according to the company’s website. Coalition leaders say the company should come up with another summer thirst-quencher that doesn’t market to youth.
“These drinks may be non-alcoholic, but they look like and taste like the real thing. Taco Bell has always been a family restaurant, and this promotion of an alcohol-like drink is not "youth friendly,” said Susie Dugan, representing the Prevention Resources & Drug Information on Drug Education (PRIDE) coalition in Omaha, Neb.
In their coalition’s letter, PRIDE-Omaha urges the prevention community to contact Taco Bell to protest this promotion that glamorizes and normalizes alcohol to teens who patronize Taco Bell for their pocketbook-friendly prices including a $2 meal.
“Alcohol is the number one preventable cause of death among America's adolescents. If our communities are to discourage underage drinking, all segments of society must help, and that includes businesses like Taco Bell,” their letter states.
Taco Bell is a subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.’s Yum! Brands, Inc., the world's largest restaurant company in terms of “system restaurants” with more than 37,000 restaurants in 110 countries and territories. The Guilford CARES coalition in Greensboro, N.C. is tackling the Frutista problem by also handing out an educational flyer they created to cashiers at the point-of-purchase at Taco Bell and all the other restaurants that operate under the YUM! brand such as Pizza Hut, KFC, and Long John Silver’s.
Media attention is another strategy to achieve outcomes, according to PRIDE-Omaha’s Dugan, a CADCA member. In addition to contacting the franchises and company-owned fast food restaurants as well as the corporate office, their coalition was interviewed last week by a local radio station in the hopes that the Frutista Freeze frozen mixed drinks will be pulled from the menu and that the chain will adopt a more socially responsible policy to refrain from selling products that trivialize underage drinking.
“When you see things that are promoting any kind of a drug to a kid, you ‘gotta challenge it,” Dugan said.