ATLANTA — Taco Bell's head of packaging is encouraging thermoformers to move faster and use creativity to grab business at the Mexico fast-food giant.
"A lot of times speed and cost is what keeps plastic out of our business," Taco Bell packaging manager Matthew Voigt, who spoke Sept. 10 at the SPE Thermoforming Conference in Atlanta.
Voigt said Taco Bell spends about $200 million to $250 million on packaging a year. A good portion of that is plastics, which competes against paper. Last year, he said, the restaurant chain approved three product launches, working with major thermoformers and investing $1 million in tooling.
But Voigt said paper packaging suppliers are able to change product design pretty quickly and inexpensively. Not so with plastics: "It takes 16 weeks to get new tools ready for a national program. Why? Let's do it in one month," he said.
A change in packaging strategy at Taco Bell could lead to more plastic for its packaging, which he called "a touch point" with customers. Voigt said his position recently moved from engineering packaging to using packaging as a marketing tool.
An 11-year Taco Bell veteran, Voigt said his focus is on taking out weight out and cost for the last decade. Now Taco Bell officials consider packaging an investment — though cost is still an issue.
The chain offers food you can't get at the burger chains; that makes the business different, he said. "We want to do more of that and we want partners to help us do that."
Voigt said Taco Bell also wants to become more sustainable, using as much recycled content as possible and making sure its packaging is recyclable.
"When you come to us, we want creative ideas," he said. "Bring it to us, talk to us."
Taco Bell has 6,500 stores in the U.S., said Voigt, who worked in the perfume industry and nutritional supplements before food. As a high schooler in Michigan, he said he ate at Taco Bell nearly every day. "When Taco Bell called [with a job offer], I said yes. I love Taco Bell," he said.
"If you can bring solutions to age-old problems and make them work in our business, we will give you scale to support that, whether it's material, or technology, or function and forms. We're ready for it," he said. "We want to be your support system for that."
About 10 thermoformers lined up to talk to Voigt after his speech.