Fast food giant Taco Bell is taking a deeper dive into plant-based meat with a new test launch of vegan beef. Starting today, approximately 50 locations in Birmingham, AL, will feature the chain’s exclusive “Seasoned Real Veggie Protein” in place of beef on its menu of tacos, burritos, and more. Inspired by classic Taco Bell flavors, Vegan Beef is made with a proprietary blend of soy and pea proteins.

To highlight the new option, Taco Bell introduces vegan protein atop Nachos BellGrande and launches a new Crispy Melt Taco. This taco option is priced at $2.49 and can be ordered with beef or its plant protein at no additional cost, which is unique since many plant-based meat options at fast food restaurants have a high price.

“Taco Bell has worked hard to innovate and develop a plant-based protein that is just as enjoyable as Taco Bell’s signature real seasoned beef,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told VegNews. “We believe fans should never have to compromise the taste of their food cravings and choices. We pride ourselves on making delicious, accessible food available to everyone. That’s why the Crispy Melt Taco will be available for the same price regardless of the choice of plant protein or beef.

Taco Bell’s exclusive vegan beef will be available in Birmingham stores by mid-October, or while supplies last. Restaurant participation may vary, so Birmingham customers are encouraged to contact their local Taco Bell about the new option.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell Vegan Beef

While Taco Bell’s customizable menu has been a favorite of vegetarians and vegans for years, the chain has recently begun exploring plant-based meat alternatives. Taco Bell first unveiled its “seasoned vegetable protein” at a location in Tustin, Calif., last April. There, Taco Bell offered the vegan meat as part of the Cravetarian Taco (a meatless version of its Crunchy Taco Supreme).

Last fall, Taco Bell expanded testing of its first plant-based beef to 95 Detroit-area locations. Birmingham’s new test will further inform Taco Bell of the viability of vegan beef on a larger scale.

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VegNews was among the first to taste Taco Bell’s vegan beef, ahead of its trial and at a media event this week. Our editors agree that the plant-based protein is an exact replica of the taste and texture of Taco Bell’s animal-based beef.

In addition to testing its signature vegan beef, Taco Bell experimented with other plant-based meat options, including some fun ideas from its test kitchen. In June 2021, Taco Bell played with plant-based chicken at its test site in Irvine, California. Taco Bell’s Test Kitchen developed the Naked Chalupa with a plant-based crispy shell to mirror the chain’s Naked Chicken Chalupa, but instead of using animal meat, the shell was made entirely from vegan chicken. which was made from a proprietary pea protein blend that was breaded and fried.

Beyond Meat at Taco Bell

Although its vegan chicken chalupa shell hasn’t resurfaced since last summer, Taco Bell has been working diligently with vegan brand Beyond Meat since March 2021 on what it says is a plant-based protein “not yet seen in industry”. Last December, rumors started circulating that this option was plant-based carne asada and that Taco Bell was not happy with the test.

However, a Taco Bell spokesperson quickly quashed the rumors. “The test between Taco Bell and Beyond Meat has not been canceled,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told VegNews at the time. “Taco Bell and Beyond Meat are still actively working together to create a plant-based protein that is just as enjoyable as Taco Bell’s current meat options and completely innovative for the national fast food space.”

During this week’s tasting at Taco Bell’s California headquarters, Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell’s Director of Global Nutrition and Sustainability, was on hand to talk about developments around her work with Beyond Meat. “I’m thrilled to confirm that Taco Bell’s long-awaited innovation with Beyond Meat will be available before the end of 2022,” Schaaphok told VegNews. “Delicious innovations take time, so I look forward to sharing more soon.”

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What about vegan cheese for BellGrande Nachos, Mexican Pizza, and Upper Tier Chalupas? Schaaphok explained that the chain first focuses on performance testing of its plant-based meats. While vegan cheese isn’t part of Taco Bell’s immediate plan, she said the chain is actively monitoring the dairy-free space.

In the meantime, Taco Bell is also launching a new chunky guacamole nationwide made with Hass avocados, fresh tomatoes and onions, which is a perfect topping for items made with its Revival Seasoned Potatoes.

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