Chipotle tests plant-based chorizo, shunning Impossible, Beyond

Leslie Patton
Bloomberg

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is introducing a new plant-based chorizo that’s made in-house, bypassing faux-meat giants such as Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods.

The sausage alternative created by Chipotle’s culinary team is made with pea protein – a common ingredient in meat substitutes – as well as water, olive oil and spices including paprika and cumin. While Beyond Meat and Impossible have become frequent collaborators with restaurant chains, Chipotle said it wasn’t interested because some other plant-based foods contain too many unhealthy additives.

“They’re too processed for us, and they contain a lot of ingredients we would never have in our restaurants,” Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt said in a interview. The company’s entire menu consists of 53 ingredients, he noted.

The fake chorizo, which Chipotle has been working on for about a year, will be available in a trial in about 100 stores in Denver, Indianapolis and Orange County, California.

While Chipotle has been selling soy-based sofritas for years, this is its first foray into the plant-based meat that has become more popular recently amid growing health and sustainability concerns.

“We definitely see a lot of interest in it,” Brandt said of non-meat fare. “Some people for the health benefits, some people for the environmental benefits.”

Despite the rising demand, many efforts by restaurants to introduce plant-based offerings have failed to gain traction after initial trials as diners default back to chicken, pork or beef. Brandt said the new grilled chorizo crumbles aren’t meant to replace any item on the chain’s current menu.

“We think there’s a lot of upside,” he said. While the product may help boost vegetarian sales, which are less than 20% of the total now for the chain, Brandt said it’s meant to appeal to carnivores as well. “I don’t think people will miss the meat at all.”