We’ve all seen the bright lights of a Taco Bell at 2am, beckoning us to the drive-thru for a taste of its late-night eats. And the Bell has always ensured its plant-based guests were taken care of, with an array of customizable meatless items that can be ordered with beans subbed in for beef and an array of plant-based add-ons for a quick vegan shortcut.
But this week, plant-based denizens of three major cities will have something a little dreamier on the menu at their local Taco Bell. Starting June 8, the chain is testing its first, fully vegan entrée: the Vegan Crunchwrap.
This new item features all of the components of the original, but without any animal products, including plant-based beef, a cool dairy-free sour cream “blanco sauce,” warm nacho sauce, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and a crunchy tostada wrapped in an oversized flour tortilla.
For this limited-time launch, Taco Bell chose to test the Vegan Crunchwrap in cities with sizable vegan populations: Los Angeles, New York City, and Orlando. “Decisions for Taco Bell’s tests are based on a variety of factors, including brand insights, market research, and local restaurant collaboration,” Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell’s Director of Global Nutrition & Sustainability, tells VegNews. “Given the significance of the Vegan Crunchwrap’s innovation, we leveraged our data to target US cities with notable vegan populations, to gain insights from this important fanbase.”
The Vegan Crunchwrap can be ordered in the following locations:
- Los Angeles—6741 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028
- New York City—976 6th Ave., New York, NY 10018
- Orlando—11893 East Colonial Dr., Orlando, FL 32826
The making of Taco Bell’s Vegan Crunchwrap
In 2005, product developer Lois Carson first created the Crunchwrap Supreme for Taco Bell. After selling 51 million of them in the first month and a half, Taco Bell added the Crunchwrap Supreme to its permanent menu in 2006, and it has since been a best-seller.
Taco Bell takes its vegetarian options seriously, with 23 percent of its sales coming from meatless items in 2022. As such, for the Vegan Crunchwrap, Taco Bell’s Test Kitchen worked for years tasting and testing to make sure the vegan version, certified by the American Vegetarian Association, could stand up to the original.
“We never want our vegan and vegetarian fans to feel like they have to compromise at Taco Bell. The goal while in product development was to create a vegan alternative that was just as craveable as the original, while also being equally convenient as a ready-to-order menu item with no modifications needed,” Schaaphok says. “The Vegan Crunchwrap took years to create, and we are confident that our fans will love the final product.”
In test markets, while prices may vary, the Vegan Crunchwrap will be offered at the same price of its animal-based counterpart to make sure that customers wanting to try the new item do not have to overcome a cost barrier.
“By offering the Vegan Crunchwrap at price parity to the traditional Crunchwrap Supreme, we’re able to continue making plant-based options more accessible for our fans,” Schaaphok says.
“We never want vegans to feel like they have to pay more or compromise for equally craveable options.”
Taco Bell’s venture into dairy-free cheese
Taco Bell’s new Vegan Crunchwrap is filled with boldly seasoned plant-based beef—made with a blend of soy and pea protein—that the chain has been working on for several years. Taco Bell first unveiled the vegan beef at one location in Tustin, CA in April 2021. There, Taco Bell offered the vegan meat as part of the Cravetarian Taco (a meatless version of its Crunchy Taco Supreme).
That fall, Taco Bell expanded the test of its first plant-based beef to 95 Detroit area locations before bringing it to an additional 50 Birmingham, AL area locations last year.
This vegan beef was featured as part of the Nachos BellGrande and a new Crispy Melt Taco, two vegetarian options that contained dairy.
Simultaneously, last October, Taco Bell unveiled the fruits of its labor with vegan brand Beyond Meat. For a limited time at 50 locations in Dayton, OH, the chain offered Beyond Carne Asada Steak as part of a quesadilla but could also be ordered in any menu item instead of animal-derived meat for no extra cost.
While previous tests of new menu innovations included dairy cheeses and sauces, the Vegan Crunchwrap, filled with gooey nacho and blanco sauces (made primarily from soy and chickpeas), is the first time Taco Bell has offered vegan dairy products. “We have tested a number of plant-based proteins, but the vegan blanco and vegan nacho sauces were integral to creating the holistic Vegan Crunchwrap,” Schaaphok says. “Each ingredient was intentionally crafted to complement each other and come together to create the iconic flavors of a Crunchwrap.”
“We wanted to create an entrée item that was completely vegan, right off the menu, no modifications needed,” Schaaphok added.
Since the Vegan Crunchwrap was crafted to be “perfect” and eaten as-is, the new beef, nacho sauce, and blanco sauce cannot be used to modify other items at this time. Taco Bell will determine the national viability of its Vegan Crunchwrap during the limited-time test in these three, vegan-friendly cities.
“Taco Bell’s tests are an efficient way for the company to check on how consumers respond to a product before potentially rolling it out on a larger scale. We conduct tests to determine things like pricing and build, to check incrementality, to understand operational impact, and to make assessments for future offers and rollouts,” Schaaphok says. “While we do not share details of test results, we are excited for what the Vegan Crunchwrap test will mean for future vegan and vegetarian menu developments.”