A Short-lived Comeback at Taco Bell

How challenging can it be to layer ground beef, refried beans, lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese and sauce onto a couple of fried tortillas?

Apparently, pretty darn challenging. After the return of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza in late May, the uber-popular menu item is gone again. Its reappearance lasted only a couple of weeks, during which fans of the fast food restaurant’s most iconic menu item showed their love in incredible ways. A Taco Bell in California sold more than a thousand Mexican Pizzas in one day. In one unnamed location in the U.S., a single customer bought 180 pizzas. According to corporate press releases, demand for Mexican pizzas was seven times higher than the last time it was on the menu.

So why was it pulled in the first place? Blame Covid. In November 2020, in order to streamline operations when dining-in wasn’t an option, Mexican Pizzas went on the chopping block along with several other menu items. In addition to being more complicated for home delivery, the pizza packaging was criticized as being environmentally unfriendly.

Public outcry was astonishing. More than 170,000 fans signed a change.org petition to bring the Mexican Pizza back. It was hauntingly reminiscent of what happened when Popeye’s “sold out” of their spicy chicken sandwich in just two weeks in August 2019 in and then brought it back, amid national hysteria, in November.

One of the most interesting things about Taco Bell’s re-release of the Mexican Pizza is that, on May 17 (the first day it was available), only  customers who ordered and paid via the restaurant’s app were able to get one. A friend posted on Facebook that he’d tried to buy one over the counter in Sparta and been turned away. But two days later, anyone willing to wait in line could buy a Mexican Pizza the old-fashioned way.

That’s exactly what I did.

I left church at noon on May 22 and headed to the Taco Bell on South Jefferson Avenue, only to discover it was closed for remodeling. But my mouth was watering for Mexican Pizza and only Mexican Pizza, so off to Jackson Plaza I went. Though the drive-thru line wasn’t overly long, I opted to go inside in hopes that I could talk face-to-face with someone who worked there. I ordered my pizza and the young woman at the cash register rang it up.

“Y’all selling a lot of these?” I asked.

“Yep,” she replied without looking up. Alrighty then.

I took a table in the corner and, with trembling fingers, opened my treasure. The heavy card-stock box of yesteryear had been replaced by a lighter and flimsier one, which was decorated with snazzy graphics. The meal inside looked just as wonderful as I remembered. It tasted just as wonderful, too, so wonderful that I scarfed it down more quickly than I should have and kind of wished I’d ordered two. But I resisted, secure in the knowledge I could get my hands on a Mexican Pizza pretty much any time I wanted.

Now, I wish I’d ordered 180 pizzas myself. Because by the time June rolled around, the Mexican Pizza was gone again.

A few days ago, I called all four Taco Bells in Putnam County, as well as the stores in Livingston and Sparta, and was told the same thing by everyone I spoke with. Mexican Pizzas are “sold out” nationwide and won’t be back for several months. No one I talked with could explain why. But while at a Taco Bell in Kentucky last weekend, I asked the teenager working behind the counter if he knew. “We can’t get fried tortilla shells,” he said.

“So…this isn’t the all-too-common marketing ploy of fabricating scarcity to increase demand?” I asked. He shook his head, though I’m not at all sure he knew what I was talking about.

(June 25, 2022)