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Fast Food Plant-Based Sustainability

Taco Bell Tests New ‘Cravetarian’ Plant-Based Protein Option

While Taco Bell has some upcoming plans with Beyond Meat, that hasn’t stopped them from trying to make their own plant-based proteins.

Through April 29th, the chain is testing a “Cravetarian” ground beef substitute that’s made from a blend of pea and chickpea protein. It’s served up just like a classic Taco Supreme, with sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.

According to a release from Taco Bell, this taco contains 10 less calories than a standard Taco Supreme (180 vs 190), but no other nutritional or sustainability benefits are noted. Since this is just a test, were this to go nationwide, we would be likely to get more specific info.

Taco Bell has dabbled in proprietary plant-based substitutes in the past, including an “Oatrageous Taco” in parts of Europe. However, this represents part of a broader initiative where the chain is going all in on having more sustainable options.

Foodbeast was able to try the Cravetarian Taco ahead of its test launch, and found it difficult to differentiate from a standard Supreme Taco. Flavor and texture wise, things are there, and the spices do a decent job of masking any potential taste that the pea or chickpea might provide. Overall, it’s a solid option for vegetarians and non-vegetarians that’s meant as more of an environmental statement than a health food.

Taco Bell’s Cravetarian Taco will be available through April 29th at a single location (14042 Red Hill Avenue, Tustin, California) in Orange County. The individual taco costs $2.19, but you can also swap it into other items for no extra cost.

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Fast Food Sustainability

Taco Bell Is Launching Program To Recycle Their Sauce Packets This Year

Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

In one of its biggest efforts to date to be more climate-friendly, Taco Bell has found a way to make all of its sauce packets recyclable. This could potentially take billions of pieces of plastic out of landfills annually.

For context, Taco Bell claims that 8.2 billion sauce packets are used in the United States each year. All of these pieces of plastic are currently not recyclable, and the taco titan doesn’t plan on switching materials.

However, a new partnership with recycling company TerraCycle will help convert the sauce packets. TerraCycle, which runs the Loop recycling service many global brands subscribe to, specializes in taking materials that normally aren’t recyclable and converting them into hard plastic.

Taco Bell and TerraCycle will launch the pilot program for their sauce packets later this year, and consumers will be able to participate in a yet-to-be announced method that will include free shipping. The hope is that this will help convert all of the chain’s sauce packet plastic waste by 2025, a long-term goal for Taco Bell.

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Fast Food Food Policy Food Waste Science Sustainability Technology

The Top 10 Most Climate Friendly Fast Food Chains, Ranked

Photo: Erik McClean // Unsplash

One of the biggest things that has to change for the world to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050 is our food systems. Many produce food at unsustainable rates that don’t give back to the environment or allow things to regrow and populations to recover. 

While eating in such a climate-friendly way is oftentimes expensive, many fast food chains are contributing to the cause by altering how they source their food, plastics, and energy. It’s a key step in helping change our food systems, since chains affect massive swaths of the food supply while feeding millions of people.

Sure, fast food isn’t what you would think of as completely “climate-friendly,” but many chains have made some big efforts in making their systems more sustainable. The ten chains on this list have done the most in that regard compared to other fast food giants. 

When looking at what chains would make this list, we looked at the efforts they’ve made in providing sustainable food options, reducing waste and plastic usage, and overall conservation efforts for energy, water, and other resources needed to run a restaurant empire. Any support given to farming and conservation efforts that aim to make the food chain sustainable are also a big plus. 

“Clean label” was not a factor considered, although many may link it to a chain that’s more environmentally friendly. “Clean label” has more to do with ingredients than it does with sustainability, and not all “clean label” chains make equitable efforts when it comes to the environment. If they do, however, chances are they’ll show up on here!

10) White Castle

White Castle was one of the first major fast food chains to add any plant-based meat alternatives, incorporating Impossible Foods into their arsenal in 2018. That’s not the only change they’ve been making to their food, however: they ensure that their fish is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable, they recycle some of their cooking oil for biodiesel fuel, and use post-consumer recyclables to make their packaging. This includes items like the Crave Cases, which are made using recyclable materials.

The OG burger chain also has a commitment to drop their emissions by at least one percent every year. While they’re not posting regular reports about their sustainability efforts, they are transparent about the steps they are taking to improve their food system, and have a couple of sustainable meal options.

9) Taco Bell

Taco Bell makes it onto the bottom part of this list for a couple of reasons: they have a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options for those looking to avoid more meat (a climate resource-heavy protein), and they commit to using sustainable palm oil in their food. Most of their packaging is also recyclable, reusable, or compostable, and all of it will be by 2025. 

On that alone, they probably would have not made this list. However, their earlier announcement that they were beginning to test Beyond Meat products in 2021 means that one of the world’s largest fast food giants is making a serious effort to look at alternatives to ground beef, and that deserves inclusion for the impact this 7,000-plus location giant can have on the industry.

8) Subway

While Subway often doesn’t make the conversation as a ground-breaking chain, they do have a lot of efforts in place when it comes to being climate-friendly. They’ve developed ECO restaurants, use packaging that’s all recyclable or compostable, and have begun piloting energy conservation and food composting/waste diversion programs. 

The sandwich empire also sources ingredients from suppliers that practice environmental stewardship and eco-friendly farming, according to their website. A lot of this is dependent on different franchisees taking these steps themselves, although it is being fostered into the larger company culture. 

Subway also does have a Beyond Meatball Sub for those looking for plant-based protein options.

7) Starbucks

When it comes to packaging and sourcing, Starbucks is definitely a global leader in being climate-friendly. They’ve already taken plastic straws out of their restaurants, made their cups recyclable, and are striving to halve their emission, waste, and water usage by 2030. 

The coffee titan also sources 99% of its coffee through “ethical practices,” although it should be noted that these are internal ethical standards, and have been shown to be weaker in practice than they are on paper, especially when it comes to establishing minimum coffee prices and preventing slave labor. They are one of the largest purchasers of externally certified “Fair Trade” coffee, to be fair, but they are also the world’s biggest coffee company. That should be expected.

Starbucks has also dipped its toes into the plant-based meat game, introducing an Impossible Breakfast Sandwich to their menu. They’re also looking at bringing oat milk nationwide, and already have soy and almond milk as dairy-free alternatives.

6) Shake Shack

This is the first chain on this list that doesn’t have a dedicated plant-based meat offering either available or in the works, though their vegetarian Shroom Shack should not be slept on. However, Shake Shack does have an extensive animal welfare program set up that their suppliers follow, and have committed to updating their progress annually via third-party audits. 

Shake Shack also goes a step above other spots by using biodegradable straws and cups (for beers and shakes), building their locations with eco-friendly materials, and using sustainable power options like wind and renewable energy. They also invest in composting and recycling cooking oil to be used for biodiesel fuel. 

As the Shake Shack empire continues to grow, so will their mission of spreading climate-friendly food, environments, and structures. If they had some true plant-based alternatives to their burgers, they would definitely be higher on this list.

5) IKEA

People normally don’t think about IKEA as a food chain. Between its wide spread of cafes and food courts, however, it classifies as the world’s sixth largest, an astounding number. 

While they’re known for cheap prices and accessibility, IKEA also is taking massive steps forward when it comes to being climate-friendly. Here we’re just focusing on the food aspect, which is still pretty big: they’ve launched plant-based and salmon meatballs as more sustainable alternatives to their traditional and iconic beef version. 

IKEA also has ambitious plans to improve their entire food supply chain by 2030. This includes reducing food waste, sourcing from sustainable sources, making healthier food, and promoting animal welfare. The first of their programs from this “Better Food Programme,” focused on chicken, launched in 2018

Having one of the world’s largest food chains making such huge commitments is amazing. As those commitments are reached, it will almost certainly climb up on this list to compare with those who have taken huge steps already.

4) Jimmy John’s

Surprised? So were we, to be honest. Jimmy John’s and its 2,000 locations do a lot of amazing environmental work behind the scenes, but are public about the commitments they make on their site. This includes listing their suppliers on their website, as well as talking about the environmental commitments each of those suppliers have made. 

Jimmy John’s also has their own commitments that they practice, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They also support improved environmental practices for raising meat on over 2 million acres of land, and target suppliers that use recyclable materials, energy, water, or all of the above. 

The sandwich chain also uses plenty of recyclable materials in its packaging. All of these are practices that have been in place since the company started in 1983, according to the website, so it’s deeply embedded in the company’s culture. They may not have plant-based meat offerings, but as sandwich chains go, these guys are doing great on the climate-friendly front.

3) McDonald’s

When we talk about fast food giants taking huge steps to be more climate-friendly, none have taken bigger and further steps than McDonald’s. Across all fronts, they are working to improve their food system, from sustainable agriculture to recycling and energy conservation. 

For their food, they’ve switched over their Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to all be Marine Stewardship Council certified for sustainability. They’ve been growing their lineup of ranchers to be more sustainable, use 100% sustainable espresso beans for their coffee, and follow United Nations guidelines when it comes to evaluating and implementing research in those fields. They’ve also tested many plant-based meat options globally, and we could finally see one hit US stores nationwide soon in the “McPlant” lineup

McDonald’s is also one of two fast food titans that have joined the NextGen Cup challenge to find a renewable solution for one of their largest pieces of waste (Starbucks has also joined). They also have extensive commitments and goals to minimize water, plastic, and energy usage, all of which can be viewed and evaluated on their corporate website

One of the chain’s biggest accomplishments in the climate-friendly space is creating a “Net Zero Energy” restaurant, which opened in 2020 at Disney World. It creates enough renewable energy to cover 100% of its needs annually, and is being used as a research hub to test solutions for locations nationwide to reduce energy and water use. These include photovoltaic panels, solar-powered lights, and even bikes that generate electricity.

2) Rubio’s

The fish taco specialist is one of the top chains in the world when it comes to sustainability. This is because nearly every option on its menu is already meeting, or close to meeting, goals when it comes to being climate-friendly. 

Just about every seafood option on Rubio’s menu is certified as “Responsibly Managed” according to a third-party certification from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the company displays as such on their website. This includes limited-time offerings like Langostino Lobster, an impressive feat. The only seafood to not be on that list is mahi mahi, and Rubio’s suppliers are working now to reach that certification. 

Rubio’s also emphasizes local sourcing for its other ingredients, like tortillas, and even has plant-based options from Impossible Foods on its menu. 

On top of its ingredient sourcing, Rubio’s also uses compostable and biodegradable takeout containers and napkins, meaning that its primary uses of packaging can go back into the earth and be reused. It also obtains third party certifications for its cups and paper menus to ensure they are recyclable as well, a huge plus.

Rubio’s gets close to the top for all of the remarkable efforts this chain is making, which are arguably the most of any restaurant empire on this list. Despite all of these efforts and transparency, however, there is one company that does more.

1) Chipotle

In the world of climate-friendly and sustainable food efforts, no chain is more thorough and transparent than Chipotle. They’re not just looking at the overall climate footprint picture, they have a tracker that shows how much environmental impact is reduced in each digital order. They’ve also begun to release annual climate reports that don’t just show targeted metrics: they’re transparent about whether those goals have been currently met, exceeded, or if they’re still behind on them. 

Chipotle has plant-based options that have long been on the menu, like Sofritas or their veggie bowl option. However, they’re also willing to remove options if they’re not up to par, like when Carnitas was temporarily taken off the menu after it was discovered that some pork suppliers had animal welfare problems. 

In terms of waste, the chain also goes above and beyond there. They have a program that donates used equipment and furniture (ie. grills and food processors) to local schools and nonprofits, and even has a Harvest Program that generates meals from leftovers that get donated to local communities. It also has set up composting in close to a fifth of its restaurants. 

Overall, Chipotle is the most climate-friendly fast food chain out there because it is taking the most steps to improve environmentally andis also the most transparent and open about it. They openly market environmental sustainability to the point where you can track it online orders, promoting a future of food that is better for the environment and the planet. What other major fast food players can say that? 

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Plant-Based Science Sustainability

New Plant-Based Egg Alternative Makes Going Vegan A Lot More Accessible

Photo courtesy of Zero Egg

Switching to a plant-based diet, whether it be for ethical or environmental reasons, often comes with a cost increase. Outside of tofu, there’s not a lot of cost-effective vegan options out there.

Plant-based eggs is a category that’s particularly expensive. A bottle of JUST, equivalent to 8 eggs, costs $4.50 ($6 for a dozen). Follow Your Heart, a powder egg alternative, can cost $7 for a carton that’s equivalent to a dozen.

A new alternative, Zero Egg, has just emerged onto the market and hopes to make vegan eggs a lot more accessible. Their product, a mix of potato, pea, chickpea, and soy protein, costs 11 to 18 cents per egg, or just over $2 per dozen. It claims to have price parity to a dozen cage-free eggs, which sell at retail for about $3-$4 per dozen.

Photo courtesy of Zero Egg

Zero Egg comes in two varieties: a formula ideal for egg replacement in scrambles, and another meant to substitute into baking mixes. The brand’s big selling point is texture, as it claims to be more fluffy than other egg alternatives available. However, it also is more versatile, as not all egg alternatives can be used for both scrambling and baking.

Nutritionally, Zero Egg’s product contains about 40% of the protein of an egg per serving (roughly 2.5 grams), but is a complete protein source. Environmentally, it uses 93% less water to produce than standard eggs.

As for cost, Zero Egg was able to bring that down through working with co-packers. They didn’t need a novel new factory process to make their substitute, making it easier to produce at scale.

Any restaurants that use Zero Egg will have ways to make it identifiable, including toothpick flags that can be stuck into sandwiches, akin to what Impossible Foods did with its initial burger launch.

Zero Egg will be available to restaurants via Gordon Food Service starting on World Egg Day, October 9th. A retail product will be hitting stores some time in the next couple of years, but there is also a “Home Store” option for any consumers who want to try to access the vegan egg through there.

Categories
Fast Food Plant-Based Sustainability

KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken Comes To Socal For A Limited Run

After a brief introduction to KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken last year, the plant-based poultry is getting an expanded test run across Southern California.

Beyond Fried Chicken photos courtesy of KFC. Background by Maxime Lebrun on Unsplash.

Starting July 20th, Beyond Meat’s collab with KFC will be available for a limited time at 59 locations across Southern California. The restaurants are located in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties.

For those unfamiliar, the Beyond Fried Chicken offering consists of nuggets made from a plant-based chicken breast substitute that Beyond Meat has developed. Seasoned like KFC’s fried chicken, it’s sold in a 6-piece or 12-piece order, with combo options available as well. All of these come with your choice of dipping sauce.

The SoCal regional offering marks the third time Beyond Fried Chicken has been made available, suggesting that KFC is looking to ramp this up to a national scale some time in the near future. It first showed up in Atlanta in August 2019, followed by a test offering in February 2020 in Nashville and Charlotte.

Considering its debut in Atlanta drew hour-long lines, there’s definitely a growing appetite for the nuggets that the chain could capitalize on.

Below is a list of all of the locations you can find the plant-based chicken at starting on the 20th:

Categories
Fast Food Science Sustainability

Burger King Starts Serving Whoppers Using Beef With Reduced Methane Emissions

Over the past few years, switching to meat alternatives has grown in popularity as folks look to eat less meat for environmental reasons. One of the biggest environmental concerns is the greenhouse gas emissions that livestock production gives off, roughly 65% of which comes from beef, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

People still want to eat meat, though, and research has begun to take shape in how meat production could reduce its own emissions. Some of that research has made its way to Burger King, who is now using it to make “Reduced Methane Emissions Beef” for some of its Whoppers.

Photo courtesy of Burger King

Burger King’s new beef comes from research that herbs like lemongrass can be used to reduce the amount of emissions that come from enteric fermentation. This means that in cow’s stomachs, different kinds of bacteria can ferment what they eat into gases that include methane, and by changing around a cow’s diet, you could reduce some of the methane these gut bacteria produce.

Burger King discussed its own test data related to emissions in a press release, which claims that adding 100 grams of lemongrass to cow’s diets helps them release less methane as they digest food. BK’s Reduced Methane Emissions Beef goes on this diet for three to four months prior to slaughter, which, according to Burger King, can lower methane emissions by an average of 33% per day.

Burger King’s own research was conducted in tandem with the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico and U.C. Davis. An independent 2013 study from the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences found lemongrass to be effective, but lemongrass in conjunction with supplemental herbs and spices like garlic powder and peppermint could possibly lower emissions even more.

Burger King is taking a big step forward, though, in introducing this kind of beef in its locations, as well as trying to reduce the carbon footprint of its burger production.

Right now, you can get Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whoppers at select locations in Miami, New York, Austin, Portland, and Los Angeles while supplies last.

Categories
Alcohol Sustainability

Johnnie Walker Launching Sleek And Sustainable Paper Bottle Next Year

Photo: Diageo

Next year, expect more and more spirits to go completely plastic-free as many companies are transitioning to sustainable paper spirit bottles.

Diageo, the makers of Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Guinness have just announced that they’ve created the first-ever 100% plastic-free paper bottle to house spirits.

The new bottle is made from sustainably sourced wood and will make its inaugural debut with Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky in the early half of 2021.

This launch coincides with Diageo’s new partnership with venture management company Pilot Lite to launch a new sustainable packaging technology company called Pulpex Limited.

These new Pulpex bottles boast ‘first-of-its-kind’ scalability that’s designed to be 100% plastic-free and fully recyclable. Pulpex Limited will also kick off a partnership consortium of fast-moving consumer goods companies that include Unilever and PepsiCo. These companies are also expected to launch their own branded paper bottles based off Pulpex’s designs and tech.

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Entrepreneurship Food Trends Health Sustainability

Salmon Skin Chips Are Here, Would You Try Them?

goodfish

Growing up, pork rinds were a popular snack. My mother, vehemently anti-pork, would never buy them, but on a rare occasion, I’d steal a munch from a relative or friend. Even now, I recall the salty crunch, and how quick they mysteriously evaporate in your mouth. Those are good memories, yet with age, I became more conscious of my diet and as a result, haven’t had a chicharron in years. With that said, pork skins are still wildly popular. 

In today’s “alternative world,” social media has spurred entrepreneurship which in turn has fueled innovation across industries. As health consciousness grows and alternative “everything’s” are popping up weekly, a pork rind alternative was inevitable. 

goodfish

New upstart snack brand Goodfish is that answer. It’s the aquatic alternative to pork rinds and is made with wild caught Alaskan Salmon from Bristol Bay. These fish skins are packed with clean protein, good omega fats and marine collagen. Goodfish aims to give you all the nutrients, with none of the sluggishness carbs cause. They come in four flavors; Sea Salt, Spicy BBQ, Chili Lime and the oddly curious Tart Cranberry. 

I don’t know about ya’ll, but these sound pretty fire to me. They have a lighter crisp but still deliver on the salty savoriness. I can’t call the tart cranberry though. Would you try these as a healthier alternative to pork rinds? Possibly a replacement?  

If you’re interested in doing a deep dive, you can find Goodfish at your local retailer here.