Fast food restaurants have been continuing their scramble to hop on the plant-based meat wagon in 2022, many to little success. Sure, Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is still around three years on from its debut, but many other experiments with meat substitutes have come and gone with little fanfare. It makes us wonder if we really even need plant-based replacements for every meat out there. Now, after more than a year of trial and error, Taco Bell is testing out Beyond Carne Asada in an attempt to satisfy vegan and vegetarian customers while keeping up with trends. But as a brand that’s already a leader in the fast food vegan and vegetarian space, did they really need to?
According to a press release sent by Taco Bell to The Takeout, the Beyond Carne Asada Steak can be swapped in for regular steak in any menu item (though the promo seems to be pushing quesadillas, Crunchwraps, and tacos) for no extra charge in an attempt to keep the plant-based menu items accessible.
“Designed to specifically complement the bold, savory flavors that Taco Bell is known for, Beyond Carne Asada Steak delivers the flavorful, delicious taste and texture of marinated, grilled steak with the added benefits of plant-based meat,” Dariush Ajami, Beyond Meat’s Chief Innovation Officer, says in the press release.
Starting October 13 the plant-based carne asada will be available for a limited time in Taco Bell locations in the Dayton, Ohio area (while supplies last).
Noted in the fine print of the release is the issue that faces every fast food restaurant attempting to bring fake meat to the menu: “It’s important to note, however, that in some restaurants we use the same frying oil to prepare menu items that may or may not contain animal ingredients. Vegan and animal ingredients are handled in common and cross-contact may occur.” It’s the same issue we found with KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken that left us asking, “who is this for?” especially at a chain like Taco Bell that already offers so much to vegan and vegetarian eaters.
Still, that caveat might just be some required legalese, since the press release also notes that “Beyond Carne Asada Steak is certified vegan by the American Vegetarian Association.” Non-meat-eaters can take this information as they will.
Taco Bell frequently boasts about its veggie-forward menu. Back in October 2015 it was the first quick service restaurant to have a menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association and has remained AVA compliant ever since (the Beyond Carne Asada Steak also gets the AVA stamp of approval). When you order through the Taco Bell app or an in-store kiosk, there’s an entire menu section dedicated to “veggie cravings,” one that has 19 separate items listed—far and away the most non-meat options available at any major fast food chain.
Because Taco Bell’s offerings are so easy to customize, everything on the menu can already be made vegetarian or vegan without compromising quality, catering to those with diets that have never involved meat. Its fans know this well—which is why it doesn’t feel necessary for the brand to innovate with plant-based meat. If someone has relied on beans as a primary form of protein for years, then they’re likely to crave one of Taco Bell’s black bean items, not a Beyond Meat simulation of the taste of animal flesh to which they’ve never been habituated.
Taco Bell has been able to sit back this long and watch other plant-based fast food experiments fail while thriving in the veggie space. Given the chain’s reputation for experimentation, it was inevitable that Beyond Meat would hit the menu sooner or later. Hopefully now that Taco Bell is able to check that off the list, it can now focus on new and innovative ways to highlight the beans and potato dishes already on the menu—and maybe work a little harder on bringing that Big Cheez-It menu to market instead.