I received distressing news this past Friday: Taco Bell is saying goodbye to my favorite (and objectively the best) menu item, the Mexican Pizza.
That perfect combination of ground beef and beans sandwiched between two fried tortillas, covered in melted cheese and a smattering of diced tomatoes will be no more. That dish you ordered when you wanted Domino’s but they weren’t open at 1 in the morning will be phased out, come November 5th.
“Who’s in charge over there?!” I said to my fellow Mexican Pizza aficionados. “Why would you remove the next best thing to the Naked Chicken Chalupa?”
“Currently, Mexican Pizza packaging accounts for over 7 million pounds of paperboard material per year in the U.S.”
Well just serve it in my hands then! I don’t need the stupid cardboard box it comes in!
After wiping away my angry/sad tears, I took a breath and realized, this would be an excellent problem to use for a design exercise!
Every Monday morning the UX Team at Glidewell gets together for our weekly meeting to go over our wins and losses from the previous week, look at what’s in the week ahead, and take care of any other housekeeping items. To kick off the meeting we always begin with a design exercise, partly as an ice breaker but also to get everyone into a creative mindset.
Over the weekend I asked the team to get themselves a Mexican Pizza at Taco Bell and pay special attention to the packaging. I took some photos to document the experience, and we set about trying to understand the necessity and utility of the packaging.
Figma proved to be very handy for organizing our notes and photos for this discovery & understanding process. Granted most of this discovery was just us asking questions and making assumptions since we didn’t really have the Taco Bell Taconeers (I just made that word up) on hand to answer our questions.
The process was a bit slow at the start, but we started to get into it more when we compared the Mexican Pizza’s packaging against the other menu items. We even found a video showing the special ovens used for the Mexican Pizza (We’re fairly certain the tostada also used this oven, but the tostada was discontinued on August 13.)
At the end of our discovery & understanding, we came out with some key findings:
- The Mexican Pizza packaging is in two parts — a tray that the pizza is cooked in, and then placed into the outer box for delivery to the customer.
- The Mexican Pizza appears to be the only remaining menu item using this packaging.
- Focusing on the customer, the Mexican Pizza packaging is designed to ensure the toppings are not smushed and that the pizza itself is whole and not crushed.
- From the production standpoint, the tray design makes it simple to cook in an oven without requiring cleanup, and helps keep the production line efficient.
We never actually came up with a How Might We, but if we did, it would have been something like:
How might we package the Mexican Pizza in a way that reduces cost, but still guarantees a crispy, non-crushed experience for the customer?
Now that we had come to a shared understanding of the why behind the current packaging and the problems it had originally set out to solve, we moved into ideation to rapidly generate ways to save the Mexican Pizza and also save the environment.
Figma proved useful here again as we created a shared Ideation frame and each worked alone, together. After giving everyone about ten minutes to come up with whatever idea popped into their head, we went around and presented our solutions.
Some of the favorites that weren’t chosen:
- Wrap the Mexican Pizza in a tortilla similar to the Crunchwrap Supreme to protect it, but don’t press it in the quesadilla machine so that it can be opened like a present. It’s basically a bonus tortilla.
- Make it a fun project. Sell the materials to make pizza but market it as a fun to-do project with family and kids.
- Serve the Mexican Pizza in stacked slices and rebrand it as the Mexican Lasagna.
After presenting our ideas, we did a very quick round of one of my favorite activities — dot voting! The idea winning idea from Jae was to repurpose the cardboard box used for the $5 meals & nachos, but by redesigning the box to have fold/score lines that can then create compartments inside of the box to fit snug to a Mexican Pizza.
While all of this was done for fun and most of our research was really just making assumptions and answering questions using the internet, it was still a fun exercise in breaking down a problem to empathize both with the company and customer in trying to understand why decisions were made.
As much as I hate to admit it, if the Mexican Pizza is the only remaining item using the specially made ovens and the cardboard tray packaging, then it does seem to make business sense to do away with the most authentic Mexican Pizza you can get in the States.
Taco Bell (or as I fondly refer to you, Tizzle Bizzle), if you’re up for it, we’ve got some quality ideas here on how you can keep the Mexican Pizza on the menu AND reduce packaging costs. We’re located in Irvine as well!
And for everyone else, don’t forget to sign the online petition to Save the Mexican Pizza.