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Don't Expect to See 'Impossible Tacos' or 'Beyond Burritos' at Taco Bell

Mike Pomranz
The two biggest names in plant-based meat have teamed up with the competition while Taco Bell goes it alone.

Fake meat: It's what the entire fast food world has been talking about — even if they're not selling it. The two biggest players in the current plant-based meat war have been Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, leading to a marketing blitz from all sides. These companies have been looking to prove their bona fides by teaming up with big chains, and likewise, fast food brands want to prove they're hip to the plant-based movement by proclaiming a partnership. It's been working. Burger King is still making headlines months after launching the Impossible Whopper. And no offense, but how often does Little Caesars find its way into the news cycle?

Because of all this hype, even not having fake meat options can be newsworthy. For instance, McDonald's has remained frustratingly mum on their plant-based plans. Meanwhile, Arby's came out and proclaimed they would never put fake meat on their menu. Taco Bell hasn't been that crass on the subject, but at the same time, the brand's president of North American operations did specifically state that working with the aforementioned big two probably isn't in the cards.

"We've looked. We've met with Beyond, we've met with Impossible — our head of innovation knows everybody, and they all know her," Taco Bell's Julie Felss Masino said according to CNBC. "But I think what we're proud of is that we've been doing vegetarian for 57 years."

Instead, Taco Bell, which announced plans to test a dedicated vegetarian and vegan menu earlier this year, said it plans to continue doing meat-free its own way. Currently, 9 percent of the chain's menu is vegetarian, a number that can be increased by swapping beans for beef on other items. Additionally, Taco Bell likes to boast that it's "the only American Vegetarian Association-certified" fast food chain.

But it's no coincidence that Taco Bell is having to address these issues. In April, Mexican quick-service competitor Qdoba announced a nationwide partnership with Impossible Foods. And Del Taco, which is even more akin to Taco Bell in its menu options, announced a similar partnership with Beyond Meat that same month. This week, Del Taco turned up the heat by saying its rollout of vegetarian tacos made with Beyond Meat crumbles was one of the chains most successful new menu items ever, selling about 2 million tacos in the past two months, with a burrito option forthcoming.

And yet, a recent report ranked Taco Bell as the fifth largest chain restaurant in the country. Qdoba ranked 61st, and Del Taco ranked 67th: So it's probably safe to say this competition isn't going to drive the Bell out of business. Still, as the world's largest Mexican food chain, Taco Bell faces far more scrutiny: As with McDonald's, it'll be interesting to see how his strategy plays out… or if it will even continue to last.