Beyond Meat blew up in its first day as a public company, and at the same time, Del Taco is rolling out the product in a big way. 

The plant based protein (made from pea protein) was set for an IPO of $25, but before it even began trading it reached $46 and closed the day at $65—a 163 percent gain in its first day of trading. That’s some serious demand for the stock, and there’s equal demand for alternative proteins. It’s even brought some new and lapsed customers into Del Taco restaurants, according to chef Anne Albertine, the research and development director at Del Taco. 

“When we launched in in two restaurants in L.A., people were driving long distances to try this product. It’s really a great thing for people to reappraise our brand, they said, ‘I haven’t been to Del Taco in forever,’” said Albertine. “There haven’t been a lot of launches with as much consumer pull for it. In marketing you can talk about it and get people interested, but this one has real pull.”

But it was a long process to get the protein ready for the 580 Del Taco locations. 

“There was a lot to learn because the pea protein was tricky to work with,” said Albertine. “At first, we went in thinking well think of this like ground beef, but not at all.” 

She said getting it right required a lot of work and testing to get it right along with a substantial investment. But for a new product, she said it was an incredibly compressed timeline. The real work started in July of 2018 and arrived in the test market in November. She said it was a necessary rush because of the consumer demand around plant-based proteins. 

“We could really see that this was a movement coming. Partly because Beyond and others have really elevated their technology in terms of delivery,” sad Albertine. “It wasn’t until these things could come together that we could find a way to make it and make it craveable.”

She said it was especially exciting to work on because as the culinary leader, she eats a lot of protein-packed meals in the test kitchen. 

“So in my off time I tend to eat a little more plant-based at home—a lot of veggies, grains. Now with Beyond, I can get those and it’s very convenient,” said Albertine. 

There are a lot of people like Albertine, the “flexetarians” that don’t eschew meat completely, but are reducing their consumption. In a recent study by research firm GlobalData, 34 percent of consumers will consider eating vegan meat for health reasons, 25 percent will for environmental reasons and 19 percent for ethical reasons. 

“How we see it is, the big audience that is really driven to this are the folks, flexetarians, or people trying to reduce meat,” said Albertine. 
“But wanting good taste as well.” 

She said vegetarians certainly came in before, subbing in beans for meat is a classic. But it’s just a bean taco, not the delicious beefy morsel that they’re really craving. 

“If you’re flexetarian or a vegan, you know how to work a menu,” said Albertine. “But people like to eat what they like. Folks like tacos and it’s what we really good at. Putting beans in it, I think our consumers have been going to that for a long time, but to give them something that gives them the satiation and craveabitliy of meat in this format is really easy.” 

The Beyond Meat taco filling is made with two suppliers initially, and shipped to the restaurants pre cooked. She said it was just too complex to do everything in the store. But now that the heavy lifting for the Beyond protein has been done, she said her team’s gears are spinning on new platforms for the plant-based protein. 

“Understanding the pull that this has had on the business, it does make us think differently about how we might deliver more of that. We certainly see a consumer demand, a pent up consumer demand, for it,” said Albertine. “So it does beg the question how far can this go?”

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