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This past October, Taco Bell became the first ever Quick Service Restaurant to offer menu items certified by the American Vegetarian Association. The move was geared toward highlighting the many meat-free options offered by the chain in a bid to entice more consumers who are looking to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diet. And now it seems that Taco Bell’s push to draw in people who are eschewing meat has gone one step further.  The company just released a new guide called “How to Eat Vegetarian and Meatless at Taco Bell,” that highlights a number of tips and tricks on creating the most delish veggie combos from their menu (who knew that Taco Bell had an app?!), information on how you can swap meat and cheese with rice and beans, as well as a number of menu items that are already veggie-friendly.

So, why exactly is Taco Bell looking to attract people who are leaving meat off the menu? Well, it’s simple really: because there’s a ton of them! Not only are one-third of consumers flexitarian (choosing to leave meat off of their plate more frequently) but one in 10 millennials is vegetarian or vegan, and they are gunning for more plant-based options anywhere and everywhere. This shift is largely being driven by growing concerns over sustainability, personal health, and animal welfare.

On an even grander scale, the vegetarian market is a $2.8 billion-a-year industry, according to the Specialty Food Association, and about 22.3 million people say they are inclined to follow a vegetarian diet. Because of this, even a leading fast food franchise like Taco Bell, with over 6,000 locations, knows that there is money to be made by satisfying the needs of the plant-based eater.

And Taco Bell isn’t the only one taking notice of this sector of consumers. Last year, White Castle added Dr. Praeger’s veggie burgers to their menu and this year Wendy’s debuted an all-vegan black bean burger at a number of their locations. For an industry notorious for boasting about double whopper meat burgers and cheese-stuffed pizza crusts, these eateries sure are looking to accommodate those looking for meatless options!

These chains know that, while fast food eateries aren’t exactly associated with “wholesome eating” we all have had reasons to indulge. How many times have you had this situation: you’re four hours into a road trip, the snack supply has depleted alarmingly fast, and you’re hungry and yearning to stretch our legs. Solution: fast food. Or maybe you’ve stayed up way too late and are craving melty, gooey comfort food but have no options at McDonalds. Again, Taco Bell saves the day. The company knows that by providing meat-free options, they are satisfying the needs of all those who want fast food but don’t necessarily want meat.

And the company has known this for years. According to their guide, Taco Bells sells 350 million vegetarian items a year and about seven percent of all items ordered at Taco Bell are either vegetarian-friendly or made vegetarian-friendly by substitution or removal. Taco Bell’s plethora of vegetarian-friendly options and the fact that they took the time to highlight them is not only providing more options for people who eat mostly plant-based, but it also makes wholesome, healthy options available to people who might not otherwise be able to access them. Plus, these options prove that low-cost, healthy food is possible, even in food deserts, where oftentimes fast food joints are the only eateries available.

To rebuild our food system, we have to make healthy and sustainable food choices available to all people, in as many locations as possible – and Taco Bell helping consumers make these food choices is definitely a step in this direction.

Image source: Taco Bell