- Qdoba Mexican Eats announced Tuesday it is testing Impossible at select restaurants in Michigan. The plant-based protein is served with a blend of tomatoes, garlic, smoked chiles, paprika and diced red onions in a bowl or taco, according to a news release.
- Also Tuesday, Moe's Southwest Grill added a Quinoa Power Bowl, claiming to be the first chain to launch a quinoa bowl in the Mexican fast casual segment. It includes Mojo chicken, quinoa blend, frijoles, romaine lettuce, corn pico, guacamole, cilantro and queso fresco, the company notes. Customers can also go plant-based by adding tofu or queso.
- Moe's bowl is the first item to come out of The Oasis, the brands Atlanta-based test kitchen and new prototype. Several other new items are expected to roll out this year as part of the brand's expansion of its Southwest flavors.
Credit early pioneers — like White Castle, Fatburger, Wahlburgers and Umami Burger — for testing the waters last year in rolling out plant-based proteins. With early results exceeding expectations, other chains are now adding or extending their plant-based options without hesitation. According to Nielsen, 39% of American consumers are trying to add more plant-based foods into their diets, while the number of consumers identifying as vegan has increased by 600% in the past three years.
The burger space was quick to the draw, most likely due to the cadence of the market. Major plant-based protein companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat started their portfolios specifically with burgers. Impossible Foods, for example, launched its first product in the summer of 2016 — the Impossible Burger.
Now that other protein applications are available, including ground "meat" and hot dogs, other categories are ready to dive in — including and especially Mexican. Del Taco, for example, recently started selling tacos with Beyond Meat's vegan ground beef, claiming to be the first Mexican QSR to carry a plant-based meat on its menu. Qdoba and Moe's and even Taco Bell are also leveraging a major trend toward a reduction of meat consumption. This trajectory is driven by consumers who are more health- and planet-conscious, according to Nielsen’s data.
The canvas that is Mexican food is appropriate for such additions, too. These chains have typically attracted non-meat eaters because of their protein alternatives (beans and rice), but by adding new plant-based proteins as Qdoba and Del Taco have done, they're offering consumers yet another choice.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, reducing meat consumption through 2050 could result in 8 million lives saved per year and $31 trillion reduction in costs related to health care and climate change. The Mexican category is a good place to start this reduction. According to CHD Expert, Mexican menus represent about 9% of all restaurants in the U.S. — the second most common non-simplified U.S. menu type. In total, there are about 60,000 Mexican restaurants in the U.S. As an increasing number of consumers crave plant-based proteins, this prolific category provides a good opportunity to meet those demands.