Fast-food chain Taco Bell is now testing a vegan meat option at one location in Southern California for a limited time—marking the first time that Taco Bell has served plant-based meat in the United States. The proprietary chickpea- and pea protein-based vegan meat (which Taco Bell calls “boldly seasoned plant-based protein”) is offered as part of the Cravetarian Taco, which was created to mirror the chain’s Crunchy Taco Supreme. The vegetarian taco is made with the new vegan meat, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sour cream, and is served in a crunchy corn shell. To order the item vegan, customers are advised to remove the dairy cheese and sour cream. In addition to the new taco, guests can order the vegan meat as a protein—at no additional cost—in other customizable options at Taco Bell.
VegNews correspondent Jessica Schoech—founder of Vegan Street Fair—was among the first to try Taco Bell’s new plant-based meat. “Taco Bell nailed it,” Schoech told VegNews. “The vegan meat was juicy, packed with flavor, and I didn’t even miss the cheese or sour cream. Maybe [dairy alternatives will be on the menu] one day but for now, this is something I’ll be ordering over and over again.”
Taco Bell’s crave-worthy vegan meat
Taco Bell has been emphasizing its vegetarian-friendly options in recent years. In 2019, the chain unveiled a dedicated vegetarian menu board nationwide and made it even easier to order meatless options with its new “Veggie Mode” button (which displays Taco Bell’s nearly 50 vegetarian options and allows users to further customize their order to be vegan). While the chain previously eschewed the idea of adding plant-based meat to its menu, choosing instead to focus on its beans as a protein option, Taco Bell has reconsidered its stance and is listening to the needs of its vegetarian and vegan customers.
“At Taco Bell, we’ve long been a go-to spot for vegetarians,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told VegNews. “We’ve never seen vegetarian offerings as just a trend, and we don’t see them as exclusively for vegetarians. We pride ourselves on being a place where every type of lifestyle can find exactly what they’re craving, and we’re always listening to our fans—the vegetarians, veggie-curious, and meat-eaters alike. So, we’re excited to foray into plant-based meat and bring even more plant-based offerings to the masses.”
The Cravetarian Taco is priced at $2.19 each and is available from now until April 29 (or while supplies last) at the Taco Bell location on 14042 Red Hill Ave. in Tustin, CA. If the new option is positively received by customers and employees, Taco Bell will consider expanding the test locations of the plant-based meat.
Vegan at Taco Bell
Last summer, Taco Bell dropped its cult-favorite vegetarian seasoned potatoes from its menu. However, after public outcry and at least one in-person protest, Taco Bell reinstated the potatoes in March and announced that it is working with Beyond Meat. The test of the new vegan meat is not a replacement to Taco Bell’s partnership with Beyond Meat, which will result in the announcement of an innovative plant-based meat option within the next year.
“At the beginning of 2021, we at Taco Bell reiterated our continued commitment to providing more vegetarian options throughout the year. While we work to create a new protein with Beyond Meat that is unique and something not quite yet seen in the industry, we are simultaneously testing other meatless options,” the spokesperson said. “Our seasoned beef is integral to our menu and we know that our fans are looking for more plant-based protein options today, so we wanted to explore yet another addition to our already expansive vegetarian lineup. Our history of innovation never stops.”
While Taco Bell is currently focusing on developing new options in the plant-based meat space, the chain is not ruling out the possibility of adding dairy alternatives such as vegan cheese and dairy-free sour cream to its menu in the future. “As you know well, we are constantly listening to our fans and we never say never,” the spokesperson said. “Every test item and menu change is highly intentional, and we are currently focused on plant-based meats. We’ve made space on the menu for new products, so there is more to come in 2021 as we continue innovation and product testing behind-the-scenes.”
Taco Bell is also working to make all of its consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 in restaurants worldwide. To that end, Taco Bell is partnering with international recycling leader TerraCycle to develop a way to recycle its hot sauce packets. Currently, there is no recycling solution for single-use condiment packets which are made from flexible film packaging. However, TerraCycle will launch a pilot program this year to help Taco Bell slash the waste generated by the 8.2 million hot sauce packets its US customers use every year.