(Disclosure: I used to intern at Fast Company.) A #longform written by Fast Company’s Austin Carr dropped today, revealing the painstaking process toward making the Doritos Locos Taco a reality and not just a sorely failed Shark Tank idea. The piece is astonishing for two reasons: 1) The concept was not dreamed up by workers in a marijuana test kitchen 2) Carr gets through thousands of words without asking the real question: What the fuck is wrong with you? Why would you make this a thing? Haven’t Americans suffered enough under the scourge of Crunchwraps Supreme, congealed nacho cheese, turquoise-stained Baja Blast containers left empty by our bedsides? Did you really need to increase your profit margins that badly to keep ensuring a fuller, fatter us?
Apparently so. But the article is also great for how deeply it delves into the shadowy world wherein Taco Bell does its culinary brainstorming, a metaphorical series of Tijuana abortion clinics where dirty deeds are done in secret. No, it was mostly just a bunch of dweebs obsessing over how to get the Doritos crunch just right. Some of the highlights, split off in quote form:
The big problem: The type of workplace that enables millionaires to sit around thinking about taco shell innovation.
“If you look at all the buns the burger boys sell, and the bread at Subway, they are forever coming up with a new bread bun. The crunchy taco: It was yellow and made of corn. We sold a couple billion of them, but there had been no innovation.”
The bigger problem: The type of workplace that enables millionaires to get unreasonably hyperbolic when they figure out taco shell innovation.
“It was like, ‘Holy crap!’ Nobody had ever done this before: turning a Dorito into a taco shell. It was just mind-blowing at the idea stage.”
“But in all my years as a product developer, I’ve never seen a concept like this. The product didn’t even exist yet, and already people knew this idea was going to be huge.”
“This idea of merging a chip and a shell together–it sounds simple, but it’s very hard to make a reality. To tackle this huge challenge, for months we shared know-how between the technical teams at Frito-Lay and Taco Bell.”
“It’s really one of those breathtakingly simple but huge ideas. I remember trying to sell guacamole in the Midwest and people were like, ‘What’s all this green stuff in my burrito?’ But this was a fastball, down the middle. It’s what you’d expect from Taco Bell, but supercharged.”
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“So we had to get that formula changed, then we had to find a way to deliver the flavoring, and then the seasoning. I mean, it was actually important that we left the orange dusting on your fingers because otherwise, we’re not delivering the genuine Doritos [experience].”
Thank God for American workplace standards, I guess?
“We realized pretty quickly that we had to seal that all in, because in the facilities, we couldn’t have all that stuff in the air. It would’ve been too much seasoning and flavor for our workers. We had to enclose it so the seasoning wouldn’t escape. It would’ve been overpowering.”
“A Doritos chip is a flat triangle, and it gets seasoned by being tumbled around in a huge seasoner barrel that rotates. But we couldn’t do that with a taco shell because they would break. We could get the seasoning to stick to the top but we couldn’t get it to stick to the bottom–we just couldn’t get it evenly coated. You don’t want to take one big bite at one end, and it has flavor and the other end has nothing. We had to make sure it was evenly distributed.”
“We realized we needed more capacity, because we couldn’t slow down the Nacho Cheese line in order to create capacity for Cool Ranch.”
The final word: We’re fucked. Taco Bell uber alles.
“When it launched, there was a significant impact–Taco Bell’s [sales] numbers were up 13% in the second quarter of last year, which is big. Brands like Taco Bell or McDonald’s or Wendy’s–you just don’t see double-digit [growth] in same-store sales.”
“The Cheesy Gordita Crunch people are asking us to make one with either a Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch shell.”