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Taco Bell Takes on Chipotle with ‘Cantina’ Rebranding

Let’s be frank—the Taco Bell chain has never been known for the quality of its food. It’s a reliable source for beer-fueled midnight snack runs that your stomach will regret in the morning, but Chipotle has been the recognized leader in “quality” Mexican-style fare for some time. Its “food with integrity” tagline couldn’t be clearer.

Of course, the folks behind the Chihuahua would love to change that equation—and it seems like they’ve had some success with the “Cantina Bell” rebranding project and its celebrity chef spokesperson, Lorena Garcia. The goal of this exercise was clearly to compete with Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is something of a “cult favorite” despite being a big-money national chain once owned by McDonald’s.

Well, it worked–According to the YouGov Brand Index, Taco Bell’s quality perception among consumers rose throughout the summer after it debuted the Cantina brand—and its scores are now closer to those of its nemesis. The success of the Cantina project even inspired venture capitalist David Einhorn to warn investors about buying shares of Chipotle—and the company’s stock value quickly dropped in response.

But maybe Taco Bell’s rise is just further proof of Chipotle’s status as an industry innovator. The big name had to copy its competitor’s model to improve its brand perception, right?

We’re glad that food chains now face industry pressure to focus on creating high quality products, but Taco Bell is still nowhere close to the top in any respectable consumer survey—and we can’t see the brand doing too much damage to Chipotle.

What do we think, PR pros and burrito snobs? Can Taco Bell make a serious dent in Chipotle’s brand advantage, or should they stick to selling cheap fare to drunk college students on the anti-Atkins diet?

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