1. Taco Bell invited a group of snack manufacturers to its California headquarters in 2009 for an “ideation session.” Market research had shown that Millennials wanted food to deliver an experience, not just energy, and the company was searching for an innovation their customer base would talk about with friends. A team from Frito-Lay handed over a mock-up of a taco shell sprinkled with Doritos seasoning. “We saw it and knew, Wow,” says Stephanie Perdue, Taco Bell’s vice president of marketing. “This is one of those eureka moments.”
2. Taco Bell and Frito-Lay paired their R&D teams to come up with the recipe. In one early attempt, they reportedly used a paint gun from Home Depot to blast plain tortilla shells with cheesy dust. The first taste testers rated the concept higher than the experience. “They said, ‘This looks like you went in the back of your kitchen and sprayed nacho-cheese powder on it,’ ” Perdue says. “Which is exactly what we did.”
3. Partnering with a popular brand meant ready customers—and high expectations. “They wanted the best of both worlds,” Perdue says: classic Taco Bell filling in a casing with “the same crunch, the same texture, the same seasoning on your fingers” as a Doritos chip. But an extra-crunchy taco shell could shatter on the factory line or in the hands of a customer, and neon-orange fingers are less appealing when they're preparing your meal—or somebody else’s. Over the course of two years and roughly 40 prototypes, the R&D teams reinforced the tortilla with a new kind of masa, cranked up the nacho flavor to contend with the taste of the ground beef and toppings, and invented a paper “taco holster” to keep employees’ hands clean during assembly.
4. The Doritos Locos Taco debuted in more than 50 restaurants in California and Toledo, Ohio, and customers helpfully documented the unwrapping. In one YouTube video, a 20‑something New Yorker named Nat Christiana announced—before biting into his taco with a resounding crackle—that he’d driven to Toledo for the experience. Taco Bell used the story in a commercial for the national rollout, declaring the new menu item so alluring that “Nat drove his friends 965 miles to get it.” (After commenters suggested that Christiana get a life, he posted another video to clarify: he’d happened by Toledo on a cross-country road trip, and anyone who would drive more than 900 miles just for a taco is “a crazy person.”)