This article originally appeared on Vegetarian Times
UPDATE: September 9, 2022 - Just over a year after an initial foray into testing vegan ‘chicken’ at its restaurants, Panda Express has (finally) rolled out Beyond Meat orange chicken as a menu item nationwide. The vegan Panda Express offering is now available at 2,300 locations across the U.S.
“We are thrilled to offer Beyond The Original Orange Chicken to consumers nationwide for the very first time," Dariush Ajami, Chief Innovation Officer at Beyond Meat, said in a press statement about the dish’s return. "By partnering with Panda Express to introduce new and innovative plant-based options that deliver the delicious taste and experience of their iconic menu items, we're enabling people to enjoy their favorite dishes with the upsides of plant-based meat."
When Panda Express tested the waters in 2021, it only offered Beyond Meat at a handful of locations in Southern California and New York City. But customers sought them out - on the first day it was available to the public, the chain sold more than 1,3000 pounds of Beyond Meat chicken bites.
July 13, 2021 - Another fast food chain is hopping on the plant-based train. Panda Express, icon of the shopping mall food court, is giving its most popular dish a veggie makeover. Soon, you’ll be able to taste a vegetarian take on orange chicken using the newly-released ‘chicken’ product from Beyond Meat. The Panda Express Beyond Meat collab launches in select locations starting July 26, 2021.
“We know guests' tastes and preferences have evolved and look to us for variety. Beyond the Original Orange Chicken is the next step in the brand's journey to offer more diverse and plant-based options, while still delivering comfort and crave-ability in innovative ways,” says Jimmy Wang, Executive director of culinary innovation at Panda Express. “Creating a fresh new take on a classic favorite is a great and accessible way to introduce plant-based proteins to our guests and perhaps even drawing a new audience for Panda.”
The veggie orange chicken joins existing plant-based options on the chain’s menu, including eggplant tofu, and veggie chow mein. In the initial launch, the Panda Express Beyond Meat orange chicken will be available at restaurants in California and New York; additional details are expected to be announced later this month.
Fast food isn’t on the menu for lots of plant-based eaters, be it for reasons of health, corporate ethics, or environmental impact. But for others, making more meat-free options available at popular, lower-cost food outlets can help normalize choosing to eat plant-based and make it accessible to people who might otherwise encounter financial or logistical challenges in doing so.
Nearly 39.4 million Americans live in communities where supermarkets and healthy food options remain sparse, according to a study by The Food Trust. In these neighborhoods, “it is far easier for most residents to buy grape soda instead of a handful of grapes,” the study authors write, and fast food chains may be one of the most practical options available.
Plus, over time, if fast food chains see success selling meat-free products, it could make an impact on how they do business.
“With the surging interest in veganism, it's not surprising to see fast food chains jumping on the trend,” James McMaster, a food industry exec told Forbes. “The drivers influencing consumer choices include greater awareness about health-related issues as well as the environmental impact from high intake of meat and dairy products.”
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