Taco Bell CEO Mark King previews the chain’s 2023 plans

He shares how the chain is thinking about sustainability and workforce diversity in the new year
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Taco Bell

· 4 min read

Taco Bell’s 60th anniversary year was sufficiently stuffed, from Mexican Pizza’s comeback to the opening of its biz school, but there’s a lot to come in the new year as well. Taco Bell CEO Mark King looked into his crystal bell ball to share what’s in the works for the chain in 2023, especially as it expands its efforts in sustainability and establishing a diverse workforce.

This is the conclusion of a two-part interview. Part 1 reflected on the major moves for Taco Bell in 2022. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you share some of the main goals, sustainability-wise, for Taco Bell next year? There’s three. Specifically, one is, we want to make the headquarters more sustainable. And to me, that means maybe 100% sustainable. Now, that’s an ambition; I don’t think we’ll get there in 2023. But that’s on everything that we do—on energy, on waste reduction, on silverware, cups—just everything, because I think if we can’t walk the walk at our own headquarters, then I think our voice doesn’t ring very true…Second is to continue our program with TerraCycle. I think we’ve recycled more than 135,000 packets since we launched that program, so that’s definitely something we want to continue. And then we’re looking at building restaurants that are more recycle-friendly. And it just starts with where do you throw your food out into rather than one big waste bin, but to divide that into recycle and compost and waste.

How important do you feel plant-based meat is to Taco Bell going forward? We’re always interested in new innovations. If consumers really rally behind plant-based proteins, plant-based meats, then that’s what we want to offer. And we definitely have plans for some options in 2023. Will it become big? That just depends on what type of consumer reaction…depending on the brand, the category, the part of the country, there’s been real success with plant-based proteins, and then [in] some other areas, there hasn’t been, so it’s very mixed reviews right now. If it’s something that’s going to be significant to a menu, we would definitely offer that, which is our plan for 2023.

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Taco Bell has some initiatives specifically around the workforce next year and making it more diverse. I’d love to hear a little bit about what those efforts look like. We have some aspirations of doubling the number of underrepresented groups at our headquarters; we already have a very diverse workforce out in the restaurants. But it’s not just workers; it’s also our partners and our vendors and our suppliers and media partners. So we’re very committed to it. We brought on a chief EI&B [equity, inclusion, and belonging] officer to help us lay out not only the ambitions, but a path and education and training. It’s really gaining momentum because of the great work and the purpose work that it really represents that we can be not only a great financial company, but a great company for all people.

Do you have any specific efforts or initiatives in place, or will you in the future, to attract the workforce from underrepresented groups? We look at where we recruit, because  if you always recruit in the same places, you’re going to end up with the same pool of people to select. We’ve done a really good job at the top of the organization bringing in some leaders—African American leaders, specifically—which becomes a big voice for us to say that when we have diverse people at the top of the organization, it helps signal that it’s okay to come join our company in the middle of Irvine or Orange County, which is not, you know, the most diverse community in California. So there’s some challenges with where we’re located. But we’re also allowing a lot of people to live remotely, which helps people that are in more racially diverse areas, stay in their areas, or go move to Los Angeles, not Orange County. So we’re doing a lot of things that we traditionally have not done that would allow us to attract underrepresented groups of people and help us really become a better company.

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Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.