Adding vegetarian and vegan plant-based menu items has been all the rage in the fast food world: White Castle, Carl's Jr., Panda Express, Del Taco, Burger King, and KFC have all jumped on the trend, just to name a diverse handful. Initially, Taco Bell kind of shrugged — and for good reason. Since 2015, the brand has billed itself as "the only American Vegetarian Association-certified quick service restaurant," thanks to its significant list of meat-free, primarily bean- and cheese-based options.
But earlier this year, Taco Bell decided they should probably acquiesce to the hype by at least reminding customers of their commitment to vegetarian choices. The chain tested highlighting its vegetarian items with a dedicated menu section at locations in Dallas, Texas. And now, that dedicated vegetarian menu will be launching nationwide tomorrow, September 12, rolling out with the addition of two new vegetarian options that are both spins on existing items.
Despite having 13 AVA-certified menu items in all, the "Vegetarian Favorites" section only includes four: the new Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme, the 7-Layer Burrito, the new Black Bean Quesarito, and the Bean Burrito. As the names imply, the new Crunchwrap Supreme and Quesarito simply offer black beans instead of a meat protein. Meanwhile, if you don't know what the Bean Burrito is like, you probably don't eat at Taco Bell enough to care about any of this news. As the brand points out, it's been on the menu for 50 years and is the chain's second best-seller.
But though "Vegetarian Favorites" only hones in on four items, Taco Bell has also made another change to highlight the remaining nine AVA-certified items: Each one is marked with a green diamond "V" symbol denoting that they get the American Vegetarian Association's seal of approval.
"At Taco Bell, we believe that vegetarian food shouldn't be a compromise; it shouldn't be limited to one item, and it shouldn't be just for vegetarians," Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's global chief food innovation officer, said in the announcement. "For years, we've consistently proven that our vegetarian menu options are so craveable that even non-vegetarians unknowingly go veggie because they just love the taste. We're committed to building on this insight and plan to further innovate in this growing space."
Not convinced? Taco Bell points out that they have "36 certified vegetarian ingredients (26 of which are vegan) that can be customized more than 8 million ways." So even if the 13 AVA-certified menu choices are up your alley, the customizable "secret vegetarian menu" options are mind-blowingly immense. As a result, Taco Bell says that, even before the launch of this first-ever vegetarian specific menu, about 9 percent of all of their sales are vegetarian, accounting for around 350 million veggie items per year in all.
So in the end, no, this plant-based launch isn't spurred on by a trendy brand like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat. Instead, it's just Taco Bell pointing out that they're still doing what they've always done. For a chain that's known for constantly rolling out new novelty items, that's kind of a novel idea in its own right.
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