The march of fake meat continues at the country’s fast food chains, with Taco Bell being the latest to join a movement that already includes its sister restaurants KFC and Pizza Hut.
Taco Bell, which has long touted its vegetarian-friendly options but was a curious holdout on plant-based protein, will work with Beyond Meat on as-yet-unnamed menu items expected to launch this year.
The partners aim to “create an innovative new plant-based protein” that will debut as a test before potentially becoming a permanent offering, according to the restaurant, which said in a statement that it zeroed in on Beyond Meat “as a category leader with a proven track record of attracting younger customers.”
Taco Bell follows in the footsteps of its Yum Brands siblings, KFC and Pizza Hut, where Beyond Meat’s products have proven to be a hit with consumers. KFC expanded its chicken-less chicken trial last summer from three initial markets to more than 50 locations in Southern California. And in November, Pizza Hut became the first national pizza chain to put Beyond Meat’s faux sausage on its pies.
As part of Taco Bell’s plant-based push and to demo its “strong continued commitment” to veggie fans, the brand is also bringing back potatoes, dropped for a short time to streamline the menu, according to Liz Matthews, global chief food innovation officer.
Taco Bell’s announcement comes as consumers have shifted some of their eating habits during quarantine, sending demand for plant-based food skyrocketing at grocery stores. Americans haven’t lost their craving for meat by any stretch, but an increasing number of people identify as flexitarians, with some estimates saying that plant-and-meat eaters could make up 70% of the population.
Though restaurants have struggled with coronavirus-related closures and restrictions, many fast food chains are thriving and continue to add more faux protein to target consumers who want to eat fewer animal products.
The development “solidifies what we’ve seen coming for years–plant-based foods are a staple in the American diet,” said Sabina Vyas, senior director, strategic initiatives and communications at the Plant Based Foods Association.
The Taco Bell-Beyond Meat alliance “is just the latest example of how plant-based meats that compete with animal meat on taste and price are the real growth drivers of this category, reaching mainstream eaters in a new way,” said Zak Weston, foodservice and supply chain manager at the nonprofit Good Food Institute. “Taco Bell is highly cost-sensitive, making this launch a key milestone as plant-based meats inch closer and closer to price parity with animal-based alternatives.”
Between Beyond and its highest-profile competitor, Impossible Foods, the U.S. fast-food landscape is now rife with faux meat. Among the chains serving up plant-based burgers are Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and, soon, McDonald’s. Starbucks and Dunkin have rolled out plant-based breakfast sandwiches, and Qdoba and Chipotle have fake-meat Mexican dishes.
Even companies that have built their brands on real meat—El Pollo Loco, for instance—now offer meatless versions of their signature food, though the California-based chain created its own recipe rather than using an outside supplier.
Restaurants on both ends of the spectrum, from high-end cafes to mom-and-pop diners, have increasingly added fake meat and other plant-based products to their menus.
Beyond Meat continues to promote its pork alternatives with a free breakfast giveaway on Thursday at independent restaurants in nine markets. The program, which provides to-go meals per Covid-19 restrictions, is also aimed at boosting small, local businesses.