Certified vegan* and promising the “delicious taste and texture of marinated, grilled steak,” Beyond Carne Asada Steak features in a quesadilla with the same $5.19 price tag as Taco Bell’s regular steak quesadilla but can also be included in any menu item, said the fast casual chain, which recently tested a Crispy Melt Taco featuring plant-based protein developed in-house, and said vegetarian options represented > 12% of sales in 2021.
Asked whether Beyond Meat – which posted a net loss of $97.1m with revenues down -1.6% to $147m in its latest quarter – can make a return on products sold at price parity to conventional meat, a Beyond Meat spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA: “Price parity was an important component to the development of this product to increase access to craveable plant-based options for fans.
“Beyond Meat’s end goal has always been to make products that taste incredible, offer nutritional and environmental benefits that exceed that of their animal protein equivalents and, over time, price it at parity or below that of its animal protein equivalent.”
‘Faba bean protein, vital wheat gluten, and Taco Bell’s signature spices…’
Beyond Meat said the product contains “faba bean protein, vital wheat gluten, and Taco Bell’s signature spices” and is made using a “simple process of heating, cooling and pressure, as with all Beyond Meat products,” but would not share the full ingredients list or say whether it reflected a new manufacturing innovation or whether it involved adjusting the settings on existing extrusion equipment.
The firm - which had to suspend its chief operating officer this week after he was arrested over the weekend following a fight after an Arkansas football game - also declined to comment on how or whether the Taco Bell product relates to the "delicious and convincing strip of steak” teased by CEO Ethan Brown on the firm’s latest earnings call, but told us:
“We believe this [the Beyond Carne Asada Steak] is a product that fans are going to be very excited about, and we’re confident in our ability to meet the needs of our partners for this trial and beyond.”
Asked why the launch was delayed – the carne asada steak was originally scheduled to be trialed last fall – the spokesman added: “Creating a first-of-its kind, category-disrupting product takes time.”
Foodservice: 'Headwinds will continue in the form of general inflation, low disposable income, and easing of pent-up demand as the novelty of eating out gradually wears off...'
As Chris Kerr, chief investment officer at early stage investor Unovis Asset Management noted in a recent report from nonprofit The Good Food Institute “Foodservice is incredibly important to emerging plant-based brands because it serves as a trial driver for curious consumers,” with many firms hoping that a co-branded presence in restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets would drive excitement and brand awareness that could also stimulate retail sales.
However, the pandemic threw something of a wrench in the works, with restaurant traffic falling off a cliff in early 2020 – although online ordering for takeout and the drive thru at many fast food chains picked up some of the slack - and many firms put new launches and projects on hold.
While foodservice traffic recovered as consumers emerged from lockdowns and grew tired of cooking at home, the ‘comeback’ has been relatively short-lived, with surging inflation pushing many diners back home as eating out has become a luxury many people cannot afford, Rabobank noted in a report issued Tuesday.
“Headwinds will continue in the form of general inflation, low disposable income, and easing of pent-up demand as the novelty of eating out gradually wears off… We also anticipate behavior to become increasingly frugal with fewer impulse purchases, which will impact QSR and fast casual sales.”
So when might things look more positive? According to Rabobank: “In the second half of 2023, we should start to see a more normal and stable growth trend.”
The Taco Bell test – coming hot on the heels of a limited time national rollout of Beyond: The Original Orange Chicken at Panda Express - is the latest in a series of high-profile foodservice trials for Beyond Meat, which has a presence in 41,000+ foodservice locations in the US and 31,000+ internationally, and has forged partnerships with several leading players including McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr, Peet’s Coffee, Dunkin’, Denny’s, Del Taco, A&W, Bareburger, and TGI Friday’s.
Its tie-up with Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) – announced in early 2021 – has yet to result in permanent menu items for Beyond Meat products in US restaurants, although it has secured spots on the permanent menu at Pizza Hut in Singapore, El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada and the UK
In the US, Pizza Hut tested a plant-based pepperoni pizza topping for a limited time, while Beyond Fried Chicken has been tested at KFC outlets nationwide in a limited time offer. Neither party has commented publicly on the performance of Beyond Fried Chicken, although Peter Saleh, managing director, restaurants, at BTIG, observed in a recent note to investors, that "For KFC, we believe the product sold well enough to earn a spot on the menu, but the higher product cost negated franchisee profits."
The McPlant: A mixed picture?
McDonald's, meanwhile, has just started a 270-store test of the McPlant (featuring a Beyond Meat patty) in Australia, initiated further tests in China, added McPlant to its core menu in the UK, and told Farming Independent it was “delighted” with the burger’s performance in Ireland.
In Austria, following the nationwide limited time offer of a second McPlant build, the 'McPlant Steakhouse,' McDonald's started a nationwide limited time offer of a third McPlant build, the 'McPlant Tasty,' inspired by McDonald's Big Tasty burger.
In McDonald’s US operation, however, the picture is less clear, with analysts at Piper Sandler saying they are “increasingly concerned that no national launch may be coming” given the “crickets” from the fast-food chain since a 600-store test ended in April.
Quizzed about the partnership on Beyond Meat’s latest earnings call, however, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown hinted that we should not read too much into the radio silence: "Tests are done for all kinds of reasons. They're done to determine pricing. They're done to determine the build, they're done to check out incrementality, and they get the results, and then they make assessments.”
Saleh at BTIG added that "extensive channel checks" with McDonald's and KFC franchisees indicated "that while neither test was a wild success, the products are too important to the brands' ESG commitments to ignore."
He added: "We expect McPlant will be tweaked and retested at some point in the future, but don't expect a national launch this year ... For KFC, we believe the product sold well enough to earn a spot on the menu, but the higher product cost negated franchisee profits."
*The Beyond Carne Asada Steak product is certified vegan by the American Vegetarian Association. However, Taco Bell noted that in some restaurants, it uses the “same frying oil to prepare menu items that may or may not contain animal ingredients.” (The quesadilla pictured is not vegan, just the steak.)
Impossible Foods has struck a variety of high-profile partnerships in the foodservice arena with brands including Burger King, Starbucks, White Castle, Red Robin, Qdoba, and Fatburger.
Restaurant Brands International – which owns Burger King – has not commented on the performance of the Impossible Whopper, which rolled out nationwide in late 2019, in recent earnings calls.
However, it remains on the menu at Burger King, which has also been testing plant-based chicken nuggets and patties with Impossible Foods.