12/21/2011 05:51 pm ET | Updated Dec 22, 2011

Taco Bell 'Signatures Menu' May Be Chain's Best Chance For Recovery From Weak Year

Taco Bell had a rough year. Many of its competitors in the quick service market were feasting like crows on the still-ravenous, cash-strapped corpse of the American consumer, and many of its compatriots at Yum! Brands were riding high on profits from their successful entry into the Chinese market -- but Taco Bell was left out in the rain.

A big part of the company's problem had to do with a lawsuit regarding the composition of Taco Bell's meat. Some alleged that the "ground beef" taco filling was actually mostly soy and other vegetarian proteins. The company quickly demonstrated the falseness of this claim -- but the damage was done. Sales plummeted for months. A lack of new products kept revenues low throughout the year, forcing the company to lay off over 100 employees in mid-November.

But Taco Bell has developed a strategy it hopes will allow it to escape its doldrums: new menu items. HuffPost Food has already told you about the brand's controversial new tacos wrapped in oversized Doritos. But the new dishes aren't all geared toward the low end. Early in the 2012, Taco Bell will introduce a new "Signatures Menu", which are designed to be fresher versions of classic dishes like tacos and burritos.

The blog Foodbeast got an early look at the Taco Bell "Signatures Menu" earlier this week -- and the blog's tasters seem to have like what they saw. They described the new tacos as a kind of Chipotle-lite: it sounds like the new meat and vegetable fillings fall somewhere in between normal Taco Bell and Chipotle in terms of overall quality. But one area where Taco Bell Signatures bests its Denver competition is price. Foodbeast notes that the Taco Bell Signatures burrito is smaller than the one at Chipotle, but at just $2.99, it's also less than half the price.