- Panda Express will introduce vegan entrees for the first time in its history, responding to a petition launched by nonprofit animal rights organization Vegan Outreach, according to Live Kindly.
- The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also gathered more than 234,000 responses from supporters asking the largest Chinese quick-service restaurant chain to offer vegan options at its 2,000 stores.
- Panda Express adds chicken broth and other animal seasonings to its entrees — including its vegetarian dishes — but plans to reformulate all of its dishes as early as this week to be free from animal ingredients.
There is no doubt that the volume of signatures calling for Panda Express to move toward adopting vegan options was influential, but PETA is no stranger to putting the heat on restaurant chains, and restaurant chains rarely bend to those demands.
The organization has been targeting Yum Brands since the early 2000s and launched a "McCruelty" campaign against McDonald's in 2009, for example. PETA continues to pressure restaurant chains, such as McDonald's, KFC and Domino's, to add vegan options with a call to action button on its website.
PETA's tactics have made a little bit of a dent as of late. In less than two years, for example, General Mills has rewritten its animal testing policy in response to PETA's demands, United Airlines stopped serving foie gras at its secret restaurant, and Barnum's Animal Crackers freed the animals on its packaging from their cages.
Panda Express is the latest win for PETA, but the chain has plenty of incentive to bow to pressure now than perhaps it may have had just a few years ago. 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. Accordingly, burger chains like White Castle and Carl's Jr. and Mexican food chains such as Qdoba and Moe's Southwest Grill have added plant-based menu options, while Taco Bell is testing its first dedicated vegetarian menu in stores. Taco Bell, the fourth largest restaurant chain by sales, was also the first QSR to be certified by the American Vegetarian Association, and claims that it offers more than 8 million vegetarian combinations.
There may be some challenges for Panda Express — supply chain changes, added training, ingredient list updates — but clearly consumers are demanding more of these such options. Packaged Facts survey data from February/March 2017 shows that compared to a few years ago, 58% of U.S. consumers are more concerned about the welfare of food animals. So, while PETA may declare a small victory here, restaurant chains that are adopting more vegan/vegetarian options aren't necessarily losing.