The Reason Taco Bell Is So Cheap

In most cities in the U.S., it seems like there's a fast-food restaurant every couple of miles in any direction. Taco Bell is among the dozens of popular American fast-food restaurants that you'll find peppered throughout the country. According to ScrapeHero, as of this writing, and per their most recent data, there are 7,660 Taco Bell locations in the U.S. alone. The "Live Más" restaurant ranked No. 4 on a Visual Capitalist list of most popular fast food brands in America, based on 2021 systemwide sales. Perhaps the daily Happier Hour is what keeps the customers coming back or its Mexican-inspired food that you can't find at places like McDonald's. It could also be its low prices.

Speaking of low prices, why is Taco Bell so inexpensive? You can buy a soft or crunchy taco for as little as $1.69. You can also get a full combo meal with a drink for under 10 bucks. And its value menu offers items between $1 and $5. There are a few reasons that contribute to Taco Bell's low prices, but one of the big ones involves its ingredients.

Taco Bell uses cheap base ingredients

Mel Magazine claims the low cost of Taco Bell's base ingredients is what allows for low overall meal costs. According to Benjamin Lawrence, the Aziz Hashim Professor of Franchising at Georgia State University, "[Taco Bell is] lucky in the sense to have some core ingredients that lead to a very efficient food cost. Beans and rice and those types of things are relatively cheap." How cheap? We're glad you asked.

Taco Bell doesn't include information about its food suppliers or costs, but it's safe to assume the restaurant gets big discounts on food because it buys in bulk, per the Houston Chronicle. You can get an idea of the savings by doing an online search for wholesale companies that sell food like rice. For example, at BJ's Wholesale Club, you can purchase 100 pounds of rice for under $40. That would make 200 cups of cooked rice, which equates to just 20 cents a cup.

Beans are also known to be relatively cheap. For example, you can buy 20 pounds of dried black beans at The WebstaurantStore for under $20 if you buy 25 20-pound packs. Truly, there's no beans about it!

Taco Bell doesn't use the highest quality meat

Although it involved some inaccuracies, there was a class-action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell in 2011 with the claim that the restaurant doesn't use enough beef to advertise "beef" as an ingredient in its meals. The lawsuit came after Taco Bell disclosed in a public statement that its beef was "88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% ... other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture," per Consumerist. According to Taco Bell's Ingredients webpage, these other ingredients include modified corn starch, caramel color, cocoa powder, and sodium phosphates.

While 88% beef is a pretty decent amount compared to other fast food restaurants, Taco Bell wouldn't win any awards for having the highest quality meat — that honor would go to Chipotle, Panera, and Shake Shack. According to a report conducted by the Center of Food Safety, Food Animal Concerns Trust, and other partners, these restaurants earned the top spots of eight for using the highest quality of meat. Taco Bell didn't make the grade.

High-quality meat equates to higher menu prices, and lower-quality meat means lower menu prices. That's why a double steak burrito costs about seven bucks at Taco Bell and about 10 bucks at Chipotle. Whether you're a fan of Taco Bell or not, you can't argue that their prices are very budget-friendly, thanks to their ingredients and bulk buying. They may not be the highest quality ingredients, but they're more inexpensive than competing restaurants.

Even Taco Bell isn't safe from inflation

Despite Taco Bell's reliably cheap prices, even the home of the Cravings Value Menu isn't entirely safe from the inflation that's been digging into global food-industry pockets since 2021. In April 2022, a Reddit post warned against rising prices at the fast-food chain. "Just paid $5.15 for a chicken chalupa," laments the post.

"Taco Bell can be very cheap or quite overpriced," asserted one commenter. "Why pay $5.15 for a Chalupa or $4 [to] $5 for a Cheesy Gordita Crunch or Crunchwrap when the $5 [to] $6 Cravings Box exists and comes with one of those and three other items?" In fact, according to Insider, Taco Bell bumped its overall prices by nearly 10% between the summer of 2020 and 2021, which is higher than any of its competitors.  

That said, going all out at Taco Bell is still relatively affordable for the average consumer, inflation or not. That is, unless you ask Fox Business contributor Scott Martin. In October, Martin became the subject of some light mockery on Twitter when he griped about shelling out $28 for a Taco Bell lunch on the network's "Cavuto: Coast to Coast" show (per TODAY). "I'm pregnant and still haven't mustered $28 at Taco Bell for just me," reads one Twitter reaction. We don't care to judge other people's meal portions, but we do know that you can still do pretty well at Taco Bell with less than $28.