How Taco Bell Secretly Built a Huge Vegan Cult Following
In just a few short years, the chain behind the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito has managed to become an obsession of vegans and vegetarians
Earlier this month, like Simba returning from exile, Taco Bell’s potatoes were officially restored to the company’s menu board — Spicy Potato Soft Taco and all. This wasn’t a small-fry development guided by a simple seasonal shift or some limited-time promotion; it was the result of a several-month fusillade by the brand’s starch and vegetarian loyalists, who had been furious at the company for removing potatoes last summer.
Ever since its controversial “menu simplification,” Taco Bell quite literally couldn’t post on social media without encountering some grief about bygone potatoes. (One fairly representative comment on an Instagram post featuring a happy couple reenacting “Lady and the Tramp” with a taco: “Y’all prob took their relationship off the menu too.”)
“I feel like I’ve almost heard from everybody in the country on the potato bites,” Liz Matthews, global chief food innovation officer at Taco Bell, told CNN.
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But what Taco Bell might euphemize as customers’ “passion’’ for both potatoes and the brand actually speaks to one of the sleeper attributes of the Live Más lifestyle: its striking and perhaps unlikely appeal to vegetarians and vegans. Indeed, Taco Bell’s shift from a lettuce-linked E. coli outbreak in 2006 to modern-day vegetarian godsend has been so imperceptible that Beefy 5-Layer Burrito traditionalists may not have even noticed.
In some ways, it started back in 2015, when Taco Bell became the first national chain to offer menu items certified by the American Vegetarian Association. “We sell more than 350 million vegetarian menu items each year,” then-CEO Brian Niccol said at the time, “but until now [we] haven’t been vocal about it.” In 2019, a year after it removed artificial colors…