As fast-food competitors dabble in plant-based “meat,” Taco Bell has its own strategy to win over vegetarians, vegans, and “flexitarians.”
Taco Bell has long been a favorite among vegetarian customers, thanks in part to its highly customizable menu. Roughly 9% of all items ordered at Taco Bell are either vegetarian or made vegetarian by some type of personalization.
“We’re vegetarian-certified and have been since 2015,” Julie Felss Masino, Taco Bell’s president of North America, told Business Insider on Wednesday. “Nobody else is certified by the American Vegetarian Association.”
Earlier this year, Taco Bell began testing a vegetarian menu in Dallas, Texas. While the location serves meat, a separate panel highlights the 38 ingredients and fan-favorite menu items that have been certified by the American Vegetarian Association.
Read more: How to eat vegan and vegetarian at Taco Bell
Masino told Business Insider that the chain plans to launch the vegetarian menu nationwide, rolling out the panel to stores across the US this fall.
“People who have been flexitarian or vegetarian have known that we’ve been the go-to place where you can actually get a healthy, plant-based protein that you can sub into your food and make those choices. … So what we’re really kind of doing is just bringing that to the forefront,” Masino said.
Taco Bell is unlikely to turn to a partnership with Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat in its quest to win over customers seeking meat-free options. While Masino says the chain has spoken with plant-based “meat” makers, executives ultimately decided against moving forward.
“We love what we’re doing with real plant-based proteins, with refried beans and black beans and … potato bites,” Masino said.
Many fast-food rivals are focused on burgers and sandwiches, Masino said. When burgers are the backbone of the menu, it makes more sense to rely on faux “meat” makers that can produce vegan imitations of fast-food classics.
“If you’re in a sandwich concept, you almost need that kind of protein choice difference, whereas we’ve got … protein choice, we’ve got different vegetables that you can put in it, ” Masino said. “You just have more options with us to build a creative delicious meal.”
An increasing number of chains are dabbling in plant-based “meat.” Burger King is rolling out Impossible Whoppers across the US by the end of the year. Casual-dining chains such as TGI Fridays and Red Robin have added plant-based burgers to the menu. And, fellow Mexican fast-food chain Del Taco announced on Thursday that its Beyond Tacos were one of its most popular menu launches of all time.