NEW YORK -- Taco Bell plans to test a "Power Protein" menu that it's hoping will eventually be hit with its core audience – young men.
The chain says it will start testing the menu July 25 at about 40 locations in Dayton, Ohio. The burritos and bowls will have double portions of chicken or steak, and toppings such as corn, guacamole and reduced fat sour cream. They'll be made with existing ingredients, including those used for its Cantina Bell line.
In a call with reporters announcing the test, CEO Greg Creed noted that people are looking for options that play up the "performance" factor, as evidenced by the proliferation of protein bars and cereals at supermarkets.
The Power Protein menu represents the first products to stem from Taco Bell's announcement in April that it would work to provide more balanced options. Fast-food chains across the industry have been touting healthy new eats in hopes of losing their junk food image and attracting more people in their 20s and 30s, who marketers say are more finicky about food than past generations.
Creed said he expects the Power Protein menu to sell better than Taco Bell's "fresco" options, which were introduced in 2005 and come without cheese or sour cream. "Fresco" orders account for only about 2 percent of sales and are more popular among women.
The Power Protein burritos and bowls, by contrast, should draw from both men and women, even though they'll do particularly well among men, Creed said.
The burritos and bowls have more than 20 grams of protein and less than 450 calories; they cost between $3.59 and $5.19 depending on whether they feature steak or chicken.
The test of the Power Protein burritos and bowls will run for about five to six weeks. After that, Creed said the company is "looking to put it on the 2014 calendar."
The company is also testing new zero-calorie beverages, including SoBe Lifewater.
As part of its announcement in April, Taco Bell also pledged to make 20 percent of its combo meals meet nutritional guidelines for calories and fat set out by the federal government by 2020. That means a single meal would have about a third of the recommended intake of about 2,000 to 2,500 calories, based on the assumption that people eat three meals a day.
Even as fast-food chains play up their healthy new offerings, however, they're still dreaming up fatty new treats to drum up sales as well.
Dunkin' Donuts, for example, earlier this year introduced a turkey sausage breakfast sandwich as part of its "DDSMart" menu. A little while later, it announced it was putting a breakfast sandwich made with a split glazed doughnut instead of bread on its national menu.
For its part, Taco Bell recently brought back its Beefy Crunch Burrito that comes stuffed with Fritos and cheese sauce. That was just weeks after the company announced the nutrition push.
But Creed has been quick to note Taco Bell isn't changing its core image just because its nutrition push. And he made a point of keeping expectations in check on Tuesday.
"We're not perfect," he said. "We're just trying to get better"
Taco Bell is owned by Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc., which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut.