Why Taco Bell Got Rid Of Its Mexican Pizza

If asked to describe Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza, we would probably use the same phrase that the fast-food chain used to describe it back in 1988: "It's like pizza, but it's different" (via YouTube). Those who know, know. But for those who don't: It's two tortilla shells holding a flavorsome mix of ground beef and beans between them, covered with toppings that include tomatoes, onions, salsa, and lots of cheese. Maybe Elle Fanning does a better job at explaining it, but the point is that by introducing a Mexican twist to America's favorite food, Taco Bell had struck the right chord in the hearts of its customers.

The Mexican Pizza continued to be on the menu with just a couple of changes over the years. The green onions and black olives that were used as toppings before were replaced with refried beans; and the two-cheese blend was upgraded into a three-cheese blend. Taco bell loyalists accepted these changes without ever doubting the pizza's eternal presence on the menu. And so, when the chain announced in late 2020 that they would no longer sell Mexican Pizza in their stores, the customers were heartbroken (via Delish). Some knocked on Taco Bell's door in Twitterverse, some signed petitions to bring it back, while some others solemnly busied themselves recreating the pizza in their own kitchen.

But the question remains, why did the chain axe its Mexican Pizza?

Mexican Pizza was a staple at Taco Bell since 1985

In 1985, Taco Bell added some pizzazz to its brand by launching the aptly named Pizzazz Pizza on its menu (via YouTube). Since the brand believes in only serving the kind of food that could be "held in your hands, and in your heart" (via Taco Bell), the pizza was just large enough to cover your palms and fill your stomach ... that is, if you didn't share it with your friends. It was made with tortilla shells, and was crispy and cheesy at the same time. Sounds a lot like the Mexican pizza? That's because it was; Taco Bell just advertised them differently in the early days.

In fact, Taco Bell had wanted to launch the pizza originally as "Mexican style Pizza" nationwide, but its advertising agency advised the chain to go with Pizzazz Pizza, as mentioned in Justia US Law. Per the report, the agency had argued that "'Mexican Pizza' did not accurately describe the product and that the word 'Mexican' with its suggestion of spiciness might deter potential consumers."

While Pizzazz Pizza was popularized as a midnight snack perfect for satisfying that familiar hankering after a late-night movie, the product was rebranded in 1988 and became the Mexican Pizza, "a love child of Mexican and Italian cuisine" (via YouTube and Taco Bell), made of fresh ingredients. The pizza-taco hybrid never changed its name again, and remained a staple on the menu until Taco Bell decided to let it go in November 2020.

It was dropped as part of Taco Bell's major menu declutter in 2020

Those who started 2020 with the comfort of knowing that they could always rely on Taco Bell's familiar menu for a quick pick-me-up were in for a shock. The first blow came in August when the brand decided to pull a total of 11 items including grilled steak soft taco, 7-layer burrito, spicy potato soft taco, nachos supreme, beefy Fritos burrito, spicy tostada, triple layer nachos, cheesy fiesta potatoes, loaded grillers, chips and dips, and mini skillet bowl off its menu (via CNN). And just as taco lovers were probably filling the void by nurturing a sourdough starter or designing a wild focaccia bread during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Taco Bell dropped another bomb.

The decision to remove three more items — Mexican Pizza, pico de gallo, and shredded chicken — from the menu in November seemed a little too brutal (via CNN). While the 7-layer burrito could still be ordered via the Taco Bell app (via QSR Magazine), there was no way to enjoy a slice of the Mexican Pizza except by turning back time or driving far North to Canada (via Taco Bell).

Taco Bell ditched Mexican Pizza to make space for new items

By getting rid of certain select items on the menu, Taco Bell was "[making] room for new innovations" (via CNN). Probably taking a page out of Marie Kondo's tidying up technique, the brand had gone on a declutter frenzy previously in 2019. Announcing that they were getting rid of two classic Doritos Locos Tacos flavors, the brand had said on its blog, "As you can see, we gave our menu a brand new look-and-feel to help make ordering easier [...] It's kind of like our version of decluttering a closet" (via Nation's Restaurant News).

The whole decluttering process, however, clearly did not spark joy for the fans (via NY Daily News). But Taco Bell's justification was that the changes would allow for "new fan favorites, continued progress in categories such as plant-based diets and even opportunities for the return of some classics on a limited time basis" (via CNN). The 2020 mass purge of items also saw the addition of new ones — for example, the shredded chicken was replaced with a chicken chipotle melt, and the pico de gallo with simple diced tomatoes. They also added a Grande Nachos Box, beef burrito, a new green sauce recipe, and a dragon fruit freeze (via QSR Magazine). They even brought back their classic quesalupa. Sure, all good additions, but obviously they didn't come close to compensating for the loss of Mexican Pizza.

Mexican Pizza had to go for Taco Bell to simplify its menu during the pandemic

Taco Bell's decision to cull Mexican Pizza from its menu was at least not an impulsive one. Months of thought went into it, according to the company (via QSR Magazine). The COVID-19 pandemic had people mostly staying at home and watching John Krasinski's "Some Good News," and when they did go out, they preferred not to step out of their cars. So Taco Bell adapted by enforcing drive thru and take-out only options in its restaurants, and invested in making its service quick and safe (via QSR Magazine).

To do so, they realized they needed to have a more simplified menu that could be prepared and delivered to the customer easily. They reduced the number of combos by half, following the trend of many other fast food chains which were shrinking their menus. For example, McDonald's removed its all-day breakfast option (via Fortune), Chick-fil-A downsized its offerings (via Today), and IHOP's menu started looking like a pamphlet compared to the booklet it was before (via Fox News).

Taco Bell was clear about their priority: "With safety top of mind, we want to ensure an easy and fast ordering experience of our guests and team members" (via QSR Magazine). Besides simplifying the menu, they also simplified their menu development process by having their staff brainstorm virtually instead of in the kitchen, and taste test via drive-thru.

Selling Mexican Pizza was going against Taco Bell's commitment to be environment friendly

The paperboard that held Taco Bell's Mexican pizza in an all-too-neat way was one of the reasons that the pizza itself had to go. According to the company, about seven million pounds of paperboard material was used per year in the U.S. alone (via QSR Magazine). How is this bad? Paperboard is a material which is similar to cardboard, but not the same. It uses one layer of heavy paper, whereas cardboard uses three. Having said that, paperboard and cardboard have to be recycled separately. And as it turns out, it is easier to find a center to recycle cardboard than it is for paperboard, according to the carton equipment and case packaging company Econocorp.

Though paperboard is absolutely recyclable, it is made with paper that obviously comes from trees. Unfortunately, the pulp industry contributes heavily to "deforestation and degradation," per World Wide Fund's 2015 report (via Innovation Forum). According to a 2020 report by Yum! Brands, Taco Bell's parent company, they are committed to sustainable packaging, waste reduction, and ending forest loss in their supply chain by 2030. So it's only natural that they let go of Mexican Pizza, and thereby the generation of paperboard wastage. Taking their commitment to environmentalism up a notch, Taco Bell is also encouraging its customers to send them the used-up sauce packets, which they plan to recycle in collaboration with the waste management company TerraCycle (via Delish).

Also, Taco Bell has a habit of changing its menu often

Taco Bell's tactic of shaking up its menu every now and then has the philosophically inclined among us thinking about the fragility of life ... or the Mexican pizza. It was right here on the menu and now isn't. Well, if history has taught us anything, it's that Taco Bell thrives on its menu change. The chain makes it sound like tough love, justifying that it makes changes to bring its customers a new set of favorites (via CNN). But that doesn't help silence the craving, does it?

For example, in 2018 when it introduced the Nacho fries, customers fell in love with the new item — it was ordered 53 million times! — until Taco Bell abruptly dropped it from its menu in April (via Business Insider). Just as the disappointed customers were about to say qué será, será and accept the decision, the chain brought it back in July. Taco Bell did the whole pinching-the-baby-and-rocking-the-cradle routine as many as seven times between 2018 and 2021. Per Insider, selling customer favorites for a limited time makes those items even more appealing.

Many popular items such as the cheesy fiesta potatoes and the naked chalupa have been dropped for a short while before being brought back (via Business Insider). Having said that, there are also a host of items that were never reincarnated on Taco Bell's menu. Remember the Bell Beefer? Seafood salad? No? Fair enough, those are among the ones that never got a second life.

Fans weren't happy with Taco Bell axing Mexican Pizza off its menu

For many, it seems like Mexican Pizza was the main pull to visit their nearest Taco Bell. So when the chain bid adieu to the crowd favorite, the general disappointment was unleashed in the form of tweets, with one saying "Today is day 70 of my Taco Bell boycott. No signs of cracking to this point," and another topping that with "Today is day 300 of my Taco Bell boycott until they bring back the #MexicanPizza." Some really took it to heart: "I will never forgive @tacobell for getting rid of the Mexican pizza," one member of the Twitterverse complained, while many others said they were mad, sad, or just missing the menu item a little extra.

American rapper Doja Cat also chimed in the mass request to bring the item back. "Please @tacobell bring back Mexican pizza and spicy potato soft taco. I'm asking you nicely first," she tweeted a month after the chain's decision. Taco Bell didn't budge though, even after Cat's "Get Into It (Yuh)!" song was featured in a Taco Bell ad (via Uproxx).

Taco Bell's competitor Del Taco further rubbed it in

Taco Bell customers were having it rough, and Del Taco, its arch rival, took notice. Channeling the collective disappointment to its own use, the brand launched a campaign where it took a dig at Taco Bell for leaving its customers "hangry, sad and GHOSTED," while also promoting its own product Crunchtada — a Mexican pizza look-alike with a variety of toppings on freshly fried tortilla. In a press release, the chain said it "is offering emotional and culinary support to these disappointed fans via a Mexican Pizza Ghosted Support Hotline at 1-877-3-Ghosted."

That was, by the way, an actual hotline number — those who called it got a promo code for Del Taco's crunchtada, and per Forbes, "words of encouragement from an actual real live human being." The campaign was funny, and the timing just couldn't have been better. Some Taco Bell loyalists, if Twitter is to be believed, converted. "I've officially ghosted Taco Bell and am now texting Del Taco," tweeted one member.

A petition to bring Mexican Pizza back on Taco bell's menu got an overwhelming response

Since fans were being ghosted by Taco Bell, they decided to ring the bell louder. A certain Mexican Pizza fan, Krish Jagirdar, started a petition called "Save the Mexican Pizza" on Change.org to bring the item back on Taco Bell's menu. While the pizza might just be part of a larger menu for the chain, it meant a lot more than that to its fans — especially for many South Asian Americans, according to Jagirdar (via The Takeout). He wrote on the petition: "Losing this item would not only be the loss of one of our favorite foods but a piece of our childhood & heritage as Indian Americans." 

In March 2021, the petition had garnered over 160,000 signatures, way more than what "bring back all day breakfast menu at McDonald's" or "bring back pretzel crust pizza at Little Caesars Pizza" ever got (via Change.org). So ... was Taco Bell flattered? Nah, not really. They released a statement making it clear that they didn't have plans to bring the item back, but also offered a slice of hope by saying: "[...] Taco Bell is constantly listening to its fans and they never say never" (via Restaurant Business).

Taco Bell has finally decided to bring its Mexican Pizza back

It's hard to believe that Mexican Pizza is really coming back, especially after the fake news that went around in 2021 — once bitten twice shy, we get that. But this time around, the news is well worth the celebration. And here's why. Firstly, food blogger and influencer Markie Devo posted to his 60,000 plus followers the news that Taco Bell is bringing back Mexican Pizza in April or May 2022. Secondly, Living Más released a PDF transcript from a Taco Bell Franchise convention where Mike Grams, Vice President and COO of Taco Bell, is reported to have said the golden words, "We are bringing back the Mexican Pizza!"

The Mexican Pizza won't just be back, but if the transcript is to be believed, it will be available in new versions like double cheesy, bacon ranch, chocolate Mexican ganache, and so on. And of course, it won't have the same old paperboard packaging, but a new carrier. In the meanwhile, you could decide what kind of add-ons you would pick to celebrate Mexican Pizza's comeback, because their online menu lists a wide array to choose from.