Chipotle is testing a meatless chorizo alternative in two markets

Key Points
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill announced Thursday that the burrito chain is testing meat-free chorizo in Indianapolis and Denver.
  • It would be the company's first meat-free protein option since it launched sofritas in 2014.
  • Restaurant chains are trying to appeal to consumers who are eating less meat by offering realistic substitutes, like those made by Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods.

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Chipotle Plant-Based Chorizo
Chipotle new plant-based chorizo.

Chipotle Mexican Grill announced Thursday that the burrito chain is testing meat-free chorizo in Indianapolis and Denver.

The plant-based chorizo would be the company's first new meatless protein option since it added tofu-based sofritas in 2014.

Like Beyond Meat's products, Chipotle's meatless chorizo will use pea protein as its base, with ancho chili and chipotle peppers, tomato paste, garlic, paprika and olive oil to add flavor. According to Chipotle, the meat substitute contains 20 grams of protein per serving and is made without grains, gluten or soy.

Chipotle hasn't had the best luck with chorizo so far. The chain began offering the meat as an option in 2016 but pulled the item in favor of queso. The company said that chorizo only accounted for 3% of its protein sales at the time. It relaunched the meat as a limited-time offer in late 2018.

"Plant-based lifestyles have continued to accelerate in popularity, and as a longtime leader in the category, we are exploring ways to give more variety to our fans," said Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt in a statement.

Other restaurant chains have turned to Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods to appeal to the growing number of consumers who are reducing their meat intake, for both environmental and health reasons. Both companies have focused their energy on creating realistic meat alternatives in a bid to lower meat consumption. McDonald's and Taco Bell owner Yum Brands both have strategic partnerships with Beyond, while Starbucks is one of Impossible Foods' restaurant customers.

Under current CEO Brian Niccol, Chipotle has sped up its pace of innovation through what the company calls the "stagegate process." The burrito chain will test a product, listen to consumer feedback and make changes if necessary before launching the item nationwide. In the last two years, Chipotle has introduced five new menu items, including quesadillas and carne asada. Most have just been available for a limited time, helping drive customer traffic to its restaurants and pushing consumers to switch up their usual orders.

Shares of Chipotle have risen 33% this year, giving it a market value of $52 billion. Excluding early months of lockdowns last year, the burrito chain has fared well during the pandemic, largely thanks to massive growth in its online sales.

Chipotle sales up 31%, margins better than expected
Chipotle sales up 31%, margins better than expected