Can Taco Bell thrive this time?
U.S. fast-food chain Taco Bell will start serving tacos, burritos, quesadillas and nachos when it opens its first store here in Itaewon this month.
Taco Bell is hoping to lure in young Korean consumers and expatriates with its menu of Mexican-inspired healthy food at affordable prices.
``This is a time for change in Korea's fast-food market. Fast-food consumers are seeking new flavors and more fun. Taco Bell can meet these needs by offering a distinctive menu,'' Taco Bell Korea President and CEO Shin Sang-yong said, in a press conference at the Taco Bell branch in Itaewon, Wednesday.
Korean company M2G Ltd., led by Chairman John Park, is the franchise holder for Taco Bell in Korea. Taco Bell, along with KFC and Pizza Hut, are part of the portfolio of brands owned by U.S. restaurant giant Yum! Brands.
Taco Bell already tried and failed to conquer the Korean market in the 1980s, but officials are confident that past mistakes will not be repeated.
Klara Farkas, marketing director for Taco Bell International, said the Korean market may not have been ready 20 years ago, but it was definitely ready now.
``We are extremely confident of Korea. In all of our recent visits here, looking at the market and understanding the market, it seems like it would be very buoyant. There is a big demand for new things, new brands, which is good for Taco Bell,'' she said.
Taco Bell's main attraction will be its best value menu. For instance, soft beef tacos and brunch burritos are 1,500 won each, and bean burritos are 1,700 won. Other items, such as grilled stuffed burritos, quesadillas and the taco salad, cost between 2,500 won to 4,900 won.
``They can't believe we can offer these products at unbelievable prices. But our products contain wholesome yet basic ingredients like beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, chicken,'' Farkas said.
Mexican cuisine does not exactly have a reputation for being healthy, but Taco Bell has a lite menu where sour cream and cheese is removed from tacos and burritos and replaced with fresh salsa. One lite taco would only have around 200 calories.
After the opening of the Itaewon restaurant, Shin said there are plans to open another one in Sinchon in November.
Taco Bell's success in the Korean market would give a boost to the company's plans to enter Japan, China and other Asian markets. Currently, there are only three Asian countries where Taco Bell is present: Korea, India and the Philippines.
``This is our entry point to the Asian market... We see Korea as the trendsetting country for Asia. A lot of trends start here, like in entertainment. That makes it right for a new brand like Taco Bell,'' Farkas said.
Taco Bell has 240 restaurants in 19 countries and over 5,600 restaurants in the U.S. alone. Around 80 percent of its U.S. restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchisees.