lo-res_160577251-sWe all know that fast food is not the healthiest choice, and yet most consumers rely on these options at some point, whether for convenience, consistency, or cost reasons. But there are also certain menu items that people actively seek out for the unique benefits they provide, transforming an easy convenience item into a sought-after prize.

The contradiction might be nowhere more evident than in the Jack in the Box taco, a menu item initially introduced by the burger-oriented chain in the 1950s. Unlike conventional fast food tacos, Jack in the Box stuffs the tortilla with ground beef before freezing the individual tacos to ship to stores. Once they arrive, workers complete an order by dropping the entire tortilla into the fryer, then top it with a slice of American cheese, some hot sauce, and lettuce. It is utterly weird, and for those who have never tried it, it seems deeply unappealing.

Even those who try it tend to question its appeal, and yet they seem unable to resist. Jack in the Box sells more tacos than any other menu item, which is especially remarkable for a burger chain. It even sells approximately as many tacos as McDonald’s sells Big Macs—approximately 1055 of them every minute of the day.

The odd combination of soggy interior (created because the meat is already in the taco shell when it gets fried) and crunchy edge evokes comparisons to an envelope of wet cat food but also a nearly obsessive desire for the small, inexpensive tacos. Diners can get two tacos for just 99¢.

Famous fans include Selena Gomez (whose friends built her a Jack in the Box taco cake for her birthday), Chrissy Teigen, and Chelsea Handler. The legion of fans also include restaurateurs who try to copy the fried treat for their own stores. One higher-end restaurant serves three of its version of the tacos for $18. But Jack in the Box appears unconcerned about the threat of copycats taking some of its business. The chain’s director of product marketing assures consumers that “We are always imitated by never duplicated.”

Discussion Question:

  1. What is the basis of Jack in the Box’s sustainable competitive advantage when it comes to the tacos that the company sells?

Source: Russell Adams, “Americans Eat 554 Million Jack in the Box Tacos a Year, and No One Knows Why,” The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2017