The announcement underscores the increasingly mainstream appeal of vegetarianism and meat alternatives in the U.S.
— Erika Adams
Taco Bell will be testing a dedicated vegetarian menu in U.S. stores sometime this year, the company revealed today.
The chain also has plans to highlight a rotating selection of featured vegetarian items on its regular menus alongside the new, solely vegetarian offering, marking the latest development in a string of national restaurant chains that are adding dedicated meatless options to their menus.
Taco Bell already has plenty of vegetarian food available in its stores — diners have access to over 8 million vegetarian combinations, according to the company — but this will be the first time that Taco Bell will offer a wholly separate, meatless menu.
The announcement was wrapped up in a list of items that Taco Bell released today outlining the company’s 2019 corporate commitments.
“From simplifying our ingredients while improving food quality, to creating more new jobs, to improving our recycling efforts, these are just some of our promises to keep doing even better and being even better, and they are promises that we know we will keep,” Julie Masino, the president of North America at Taco Bell, said in a statement.
The company had previously announced a similar set of commitments in 2017, which included actions like moving to cage free eggs, reducing the amount of sodium in menu items, sourcing more humane meat suppliers, and increasingly moving away from plastic to paper packaging.
This year, Taco Bell committed not only to testing the dedicated vegetarian menu in U.S. stores, but also to improving and expanding on its value menu. The company will also be fully removing the synthetic preservative tBHQ from every menu item by spring of this year, improving the sustainability of its U.S.-grown beef and further reducing the amount of sodium on its menu, and implementing recyclable cups at 100 percent of its stores by 2021. The brand has also said that it will create 100,000 new jobs by 2022.
The Rise of Mainstream Vegetarianism
Taco Bell’s decision to invest in a dedicated vegetarian menu comes as no surprise in a climate where nationwide restaurant chains are adding featured meatless options to their menus left and right. Carl’s Jr. launched a partnership with plant-based protein company Beyond Meat at the beginning of the year, and White Castle signed a nationwide distribution deal with another plant-based protein competitor, Impossible Foods, last September.
Impossible Foods also debuted a new and improved recipe at the International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this week, ahead of the company’s anticipated launch in retail stores later this year.
The Plant-Based Foods Association, a trade group that represents 114 plant-based food companies in the U.S., released research conducted by Nielson last July that reported that retail sales for plant-based food products were up 20 percent compared to the previous year, accounting for $3.3 billion in total sales.
“The plant-based foods industry has gone from being a relatively niche market to fully mainstream,” Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, said at the time. “Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are not just for vegetarians or vegans anymore; now even mainstream consumers are enjoying these delicious and innovative options in the market today.”