Dairy Scientist Helps Taco Bell Develop New Menu Items

“We started the partnership in 2012 and it's been it's been a really great partnership,” he says. “A lot of successes over the years a lot of a lot of new product launches.”

( Taco Bell )

Taco Bell recently unveiled the Grilled Cheese Burrito and a Pineapple Whip Freeze beverage both developed thanks to dairy checkoff support. 

Both products were the result of brainstorming how to give dairy a more prominent position on Taco Bell’s menu, says Mike Ciresi, a Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) senior dairy scientist who works at Taco Bell’s headquarters in Irvine, Calif., co-managed both projects. 

The Grilled Cheese Burrito was developed with the goal of putting a Taco Bell spin on a traditional comfort food. Ciresi says one of the biggest challenges in bringing the product to market was finding the right kind of nonstick paper. 
“Grilled cheese is a classic that everyone knows and loves,” Ciresi said. “What makes it so special is not only does it have classic Taco Bell fillings on the inside, it features a flavorful layer of indulgence on the outside that gives you a delicious, gooey, grilled cheese experience.”
The Pineapple Whip, released May 21, is the chain’s first beverage to contain dairy since Taco Bell and DMI formed a partnership in 2012. 

“We knew that dairy was a huge menu gap on Taco Bell's beverage menu,” Ciresi says. “They didn't have any beverages with dairy so through some insights and some learnings with consumers we knew that was definitely an opportunity.”

Delivering a dairy-based beverage would be challenging to execute in Taco Bell locations because of the limited resources and equipment to handle dairy beverages in stores. 

“One of the huge benefits that DMI brings to the table is resources,” Ciresi says. “We have relationships with dairy centers across the country that have pilot plants and dairy experts that can help us with these challenging product development efforts.”

Ciresi and Emil Nashed, who leads DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships science team, joined DMI’s Product Research Team and the Midwest Dairy Center at the University of Minnesota to collaborate on a solution. 
The team worked to create a dairy-based, shelf-stable creamer that consists of real cream and met Taco Bell’s product requirements.
“Taco Bell has always wanted an indulgent beverage to fill a menu gap, but the setup of its restaurants made it challenging,” Ciresi said. “That caused us to think differently because we knew we could make a delicious dairy beverage that didn’t need refrigeration. We were convinced there was a way to do it and our work with the Midwest Dairy Center proved that it was possible.”
Ciresi also credits Taco Bell for having patience along the way.
“It took three years and lot of companies might have said, ‘OK, we’re done. Let’s move on,’” he said. “Taco Bell also could have gone with a non-dairy creamer, but they had a lot of passion for real dairy that brought us across the finish line.”
The Pineapple Whip Freeze has exceeded the chain’s expectations. It is available for a limited time or until supplies run out. 

Ciresi said these projects show the benefit of having dairy scientists on site at a major chain’s headquarters. 

“We started the partnership in 2012 and it's been it's been a really great partnership,” he says. “A lot of successes over the years a lot of a lot of new product launches.”

Ciresi is one of two on-site dairy scientists at Taco Bell. 

“We also have a team back in Rosemont that helps us out on sustainability, nutrition and marketing so from a cross functional perspective we're pretty set up to support Taco Bell and ultimately drive sales and trust in dairy,” he says.

Collectively, checkoff partnerships have grown U.S. dairy sales by 2.2 billion milk equivalent pounds and averaged 3 percent growth since their creation.