- Taco Bell is testing its first dedicated vegetarian menu in stores, which will include new vegetarian menu items, according to a company release. The restaurant was the first QSR to be certified by the American Vegetarian Association, and claims that it offers more than 8 million vegetarian combinations.
- The announcement comes along with the rest of Taco Bell's 2019 U.S. commitments, which the company says expands on its 2017 commitments.
- The seven new initiatives include the removal of all artificial colors and flavors, improving the sustainability of its beef supply, aiming for 100% of its cups to be recyclable by 2021, doubling its youth scholarship money and working toward the creation of 100,000 U.S. jobs by 2022.
Taco Bell has led the vegetarian conversation in the quick-service space for years, offering a guide online about how to eat vegetarian at its restaurants.
Taco Bell’s latest commitment takes that positioning up a notch — putting its vegetarian options front and center on menu boards while also adding new vegetarian offerings. Taco Bell already has plenty of vegetarian food available, but this will be the first time that the chain will offer a separate, meatless menu.
The timing is ripe for Taco Bell to solidify its leadership position here. 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. This trajectory is driven by younger consumers who are more health- and planet-conscious. According to the National Academy of Sciences, a global reduction in meat consumption through 2050 could save up to 8 million lives per year and $31 trillion in reduced costs from health care and climate change.
Still, while Taco Bell has been leading the charge for a few years, other brands have swiftly caught up with their own innovative plant-based meat options. White Castle added the Impossible Slider early last year, while Carl’s Jr. launched Beyond Meat burgers in 1,100 restaurants earlier this month. Mexican QSR competitor Del Taco has also jumped on board, serving tacos with Beyond Meat’s vegan ground beef. With these steady additions, Taco Bell’s vegetarian distinction is no longer a major differentiator.
Perhaps more concerning for Taco Bell is that many of these brands adding plant-based options provide consumers with an alternative to Mexican cuisine, so vegetarians seeking a meal out finally have a choice other than beans and rice.
As plant-based diets continue to grow at a solid clip — sales of plant-based meat increased by 23% last year and the market is expected to hit $6.3 billion by 2023 — there’s no reason to believe other chains won’t start adding their own vegetarian and alternative meat offerings soon. However, while this growth may put some pressure on Taco Bell’s leadership position, the company will continue to appeal to vegetarians who are turned off by alternative meat companies that tout their meat-like properties such as "bleeding" and searing.