As the meatless menu trend continues to grab ahold of the fast-food industry, Taco Bell is refreshing its menu and rolling out new items to meet the demands of consumers nationwide.
Starting Sept. 12, the Mexican-inspired fast-food chain will introduce its own spin on the alternative protein trend. However, unlike other quick-service restaurants capturing this market with the help of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, customers shouldn't expect to see Beyond Tacos or Impossible Tacos.
According to a press release from Taco Bell, the chain isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. But rather, it is working with the ingredients it has to appease vegetarian diets. In the chain's own words: “We’ve actually got years in our pocket making a mean bean burrito.”
Taco Bell’s Chief Food Innovation Officer Liz Matthews told FOX Business Tuesday that the chain isn't opposed to adding faux meat to its menu, but the brand's focus is on reinvigorating what they already have.
“I wouldn’t say we’ll never do that. It’s really easy for brands to do what everyone else is doing," she said. "We want to go after things that are really exciting and are successful, and not just mediocre. At this point, we’re not leaning into that.”
Rival taco chain, Del Taco, on the other hand has embraced alternative meat. The California-based Tex-Mex chain introduced its customers to meatless tacos sourced from Beyond Meat in April. Within two months, Del Taco reported it sold two million meatless tacos.
“It provides vegans and vegetarians or anyone wanting to cut down red meat consumption with more variety and convenience than they have today,” Del Taco President and CEO John Cappasola recently told USA TODAY,“You can have a taco experience without feeling like you’re sacrificing,” he said.
Other fast food staples have jumped on the plant-based meat substitute train to meet customer demand. This includes Kentucky Fried Chicken's meatless chicken nugget test run, Burger King's "Impossible Burger" and White Castle's "Impossibe Sliders."
Although fast food has moved to capture the non-meat eating market, a July market research report from NPD Group found that 95 percent of customers who order plant-based meals aren't strictly vegetarian or vegan. In fact, most buyers are simply diversifying their diet, which makes sense considering U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods are up 11 percent in 2019 according to financial service company Barclays.
Analysts also estimate that the faux meat sector could reach $140 billion within the next decade.
For the hardcore meat avoiders out there, Taco Bell’s alternative menu is certified by the American Vegetarian Association. In total, there are 13 options, including the 7-Layer Burrito, Black Bean Crunchwrap and the cheese quesadilla, the AVA has certified as vegetarian-friendly.
If these offerings don’t impress you, Taco Bell allows for customization with 36 AVA certified ingredients. Even better, 26 of these ingredients are vegan-friendly so those with stricter diets won't get left behind.
Taco Bell sells 350 million vegetarian items a year and about 7% of all items ordered at Taco Bell are either vegetarian or made meatless by substitution or removal, according to the company.
Outside of what the AVA has given their stamp of approval for, there are 10 other meatless options at Taco Bell, including Triple Layer Nachos, a meatless grilled breakfast burrito and a meatless Fiesta Taco Salad. But it’s important to note that those menu items may have made contact with meat products via frying oil and food prep.
The vegetarian-friendly roll out will be at more than 7,000 participating restaurants Thursday and a first-ever vegetarian digital campaign earlier this year.
This vegetarian announcement comes at a time when Taco Bell is overhauling its menu. Additional releases coming out tomorrow include an updated combo menu and a limited-edition Toasted Cheddar Chalupa.