Back in the day, when drive-thru menus were utterly devoid of vegan options, Taco Bell truly stood out with its easy vegan hacks and reliable value. Just whisper “make it fresco” into the mic box, and you’d be handed a decent bean burrito stuffed with potatoes, lettuce, and pico de gallo, or a vegan-friendly Blackbean Crunchwrap Supreme. The secret vegan fresco password still works, but the chain recently eighty-sixed the potatoes from the menu, leaving its plant-based customers craving substance. It is still left to be determined whether vegan meat will be introduced, and as competitors such as Del Taco and El Pollo Loco step up their vegan game, Taco Bell is now falling behind. Here are five essential items Taco Bell should add to its menu to compete for our vegan dollars.
1. Vegan meat
We typically do not ascribe to the “everyone is doing it” peer pressure, but when it comes to adopting vegan options, the pressure is on. It has become the expected norm for fast-food restaurants to carry vegan meat—from Del Taco’s Beyond Meat crumbles to El Pollo Loco’s own-brand Chickenless Pollo. The standards have been set and there are clear, successful examples to follow. Whether they partner with a vegan meat company such as Beyond Meat or develop their own recipe, it’s time to step it up.
2. Vegan-as-is items
We know the hash browns and cinnamon twists are vegan, but we’d love to be able to roll up to the drive-thru, order a taco or burrito, and not worry about modifications—and if those modifications will be honored. There’s always a slight risk of forgetting to say “no creamy jalapeno sauce, please” or, even worse, ordering correctly but then realizing a bite too late that your bean burrito still contains sour cream (mistakes happen in the kitchen). Adding an already-vegan taco or burrito to the menu would offer Taco Bell’s plant-based patrons a safe and reliable option that would surely compel them to come back for more.
3. Vegan cheese sauce
The addition of a vegan queso or sour cream would accelerate Taco Bell’s popularity among the vegan crowd. While Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, and even Chipotle offer vegan meat, none of these fast-food chains have debuted a non-dairy alternative. Whether Taco Bell chooses to develop a recipe in-house or partner with one of the many vegan cheese companies (such as Follow Your Heart, Parmela, Good Planet, or So Delicious), a solid vegan cheese would make us scream “Yo quiero Taco Bell” once more.
Give us back our sustenance! Even with the hypothetical addition of vegan meat, potatoes offer that carb-heavy, starchy goodness that serves as the cornerstone of common fast-food cravings. Potatoes are an accessible and affordable commodity item, and they are sorely missed. Taco Bell, remember what a bust adding butter to your rice was? Banishing potatoes has been met with similar backlash. Admit the mistake, return potatoes to the menu, and we’ll all shake hands and get along.
5. An epic vegan burrito
We judge a Mexican place by the quality and size of its burrito. Del Taco has its plant-based Epic Beyond Original Mex Burrito—a whopping vegan handhold stuffed with Beyond Meat crumbles, rice, beans, pico de gallo, and guac—and Taco Bell’s measly bean burrito (now sans potatoes) pales in comparison. If the Taco Bell menu offered a hefty burrito packed with vegan meat, rice or potatoes, guacamole, beans, salsa, and perhaps even vegan cheese, it could dominate the Mexican fast-food market.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and runner living in Orange County, CA.