Taco Bell Looks to Grow Market Share with Plans to Double Canadian Store Count: Interviews

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Like many fast food establishments in Canada, the Taco Bell brand managed to survive through the economic challenges of the past two years presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and is now poised to aggressively grow its footprint across the country.

Matthew Shaw, General Manager for Taco Bell in Canada, said the company within the next five years will double its footprint of free standing, solely branded Taco Bell, locations in Canada, to over 100.

Matt Shaw

“We have commitments from some of our excellent franchise partners in the market to really get aggressive with growth,” he said. 

“Having some excellent Canadian partners has really helped accelerate the growth that we’re seeing and the excitement both by the consumers and the franchisees who are investing to bring Taco Bell further into the Canadian market.”

The brand’s first location was in 1979 in Ontario. Today, it has about 160 locations with the majority of those being shared units with KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). The brands, along with Pizza Hut, are subsidiaries of Yum! Brands.

Shaw said the shared units is how the market was originally built out in Canada.

“Primarily, the assets are free standing units with drive-thrus though we do have a good number of food courts and a few streetfront locations that service the more urban areas,” said Shaw.

Image: Taco Bell Canada
Image: Taco Bell Canada

“The last couple of years have been obviously a challenging environment. We have actually grown our footprint and grown our sales in the market in the last couple of years. We’ve successfully navigated the last several years and I’d say probably in the last five or six years we’ve really invested in the market and we’ve grown entirely in our standalone format, so without the KFCs, just standalone Taco Bells. We’ve grown fairly significantly in the last probably five, six years or so.”

Shaw said overall sales have grown in the past couple of years as well as the company’s unit count by a few. 

“Obviously we’ve been having to navigate some of the challenges both with the units we do have in the malls and food courts that have been temporarily opened and closed but all those are now reopened and we have seen a net growth in our footprint in the last couple of years,” he said. 

Taco Bell Canada also recently kicked off its newest marketing campaign called Beautiful Mess “to celebrate being unapologetic, authentic, and unique—while encouraging Canadians to embrace their own mess along the way.”

Image: Taco Bell Canada
Image: Taco Bell Canada

Devon Lawrence, Senior Brand Manager, Taco Bell Canada, said the campaign will continue for a number of years and evolve as it grows. It was launched based on some insights informed about the market and to tap into the DNA of the brand.

Devon Lawrence

“Taco Bell is all about being different and challenging the status quo, which is reflected in everything from our brand to our menu offering,” said Lawrence. “Through Beautiful Mess, we’re embracing our uniqueness and looking to inspire future and fellow taco lovers across the country to do the same. We’re excited to partner with Canadian creators who embody this same spirit and celebrate their authentically beautiful selves!”

Beautiful Mess marks Taco Bell’s first brand campaign in Canada, and strives to break the mold on what consumers expect from a quick service brand.

Image: Taco Bell Canada

“We learned in Canada there’s a lot of love for the brand and our loyal fans love us and love our food but we learned there’s quite a few Canadians, especially in that younger age group, that don’t really know Taco Bell’s personality, what we stand for, who we are. We learned that through some research late last year,” said Lawrence. “And that’s unfortunate for us because for us that are so close to the brand, I think one thing that sets us apart in the QSR (quick service restaurant) space is our personality and our attitude and the things that we stand for.

“So we wanted to build a communication that shared that and food is obviously the core of who we are and so we looked at the equities that are ownable in our food being crunchy, cheesy, messy and spicy and then brought the personality to personify those equities of the product and that’s where we landed with the campaign.”

Taco Bell is partnering with a series of creators, including Twitch streamers Mtashed, TheStefSanjati, and DeadlyCreatorYT; TikTok creators @laframbuesaa and @topebabalola; and others; to bring the content to life.

Taco Bell partnered with dentsu One to develop the creative concept behind Beautiful Mess and execute it through an integrated marketing approach, which launched March 7 with a 45 second spot on digital and social.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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  1. Major miss for this article indeed. The few Taco Bell locations in the province of Quebec were incredibly badly managed, very dirty and closed for good last summer in a very disgraceful process.

    Whoever was responsible for this mess should be fired.

  2. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Winnipeg.

    In the early 90s Taco Bell was aggressively opening free standing locations here until they got into a zoning dispute over a planned location. That location never happened and actually much later on became a Tim Hortons. Faced with the zoning challenges they quickly pivoted from free standing locations to adding Taco Bell to established KFC locations. Ironically, of all the free standing Taco Bells that were opened under the initial wave only two are still operating today, both having converted to the KFC/Taco Bell model.

    Since the initial wave and eventual rollback the potential to develop free standing locations has actually gotten even tighter as other quick service brands have moved into the market. Also the abandoned Taco Bell locations were all picked up by other businesses.


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