El Pollo Loco is not shutting down the idea of introducing a plant-based meat product to its chicken-friendly menu.
"Never say never," Bernard Acoca, CEO of El Pollo Loco in an interview with Cheddar. "Plant-based is becoming what appears to be a trend and we won't rule it out, and it may be something that we look to in our future."
Fake meat makers including Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have brought mock-meat into the spotlight, and their early success demonstrates the substantial demand for products such as plant-based burgers and sausages. Part of the popularity is a result of consumers' desire for a healthier diet. In fact, 83 percent of U.S. consumers cite improving overall health and nutrition as motivation for eating plant-based foods, according to a Nielsen survey. But El Pollo Loco doesn't think plant-based is the only solution.
"If you're looking to eat healthy, we have a way for you to do that today," Acoca said.
El Pollo Loco's CEO pointed to the restaurant chain's Mexican-inspired menu featuring grilled chicken, vegetarian options, and an under 500 calories menu that he said will "cater to any diet."
The total meat market is estimated to be a $1.4 trillion category, and many restaurants are preparing for plant-based to be a major contributor to the segment's growth. Chains including BurgerFi, KFC, Dunkin' Donuts, and Carl's Junior have already teamed up with Beyond Meat, while restaurants such as White Castle, Applebee's, and Burger King have partnered with Impossible Foods. Meat processors are also taking notice. Tyson Foods launched its Raised & Rooted brand this past summer, which features its nuggets made with pea protein, bamboo fiber, egg white, and golden flaxseed.