Chick-fil-A could join the growing legion of fast-food chains adding meat substitutes to menus as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat push vegan menu items mainstream

Chick-fil-AHollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Chick-fil-A is conducting research and development into vegan and vegetarian menu items.
  • The chain has been studying meat-free options for a few years and is working to understand what customers are interested in when it comes to vegan menu items.
  • "We think it is certainly beyond just no meat on salads or no meat in a wrap. It might be some kind of alternative protein on a sandwich," Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A's menu, told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

ATLANTA, Georgia - Chick-fil-A is in the early stages of exploring adding vegan options - possibly even meat substitutes - to the menu.

"We're definitely aware, and I would say we're always interested in, what's happening in food," Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A's menu, told Business Insider in an interview this week.

Norris continued: "Specifically ... a vegetarian option or a vegan option is something we're looking at, we're thinking about, and have some [research and development]."

Currently, vegetarians and vegans dining at Chick-fil-A have the option of ordering salads or wraps without chicken. A handful of menu items, such as the hash browns, waffle fries, and superfood sides, do not contain meat, but there are not any vegetarian main entreés.

Read more: These are the best options for eating vegan or vegetarian at Chick-fil-A

Norris says that Chick-fil-A has been studying vegan menu items and meat substitutes for a few years at this point. With a shorter menu and fewer limited-time offerings, Chick-fil-A tends to take longer than many fast-food competitors to research and test new menu items.

Chick fil A 31Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

According to Norris, it typically takes about 18 to 24 months for a new menu item to go from a spark of inspiration to being served in stores. All of Chick-fil-A's initatives, whether that be new menu items or tech tweaks, go through five stages: understand, imagine, prototype, validate, launch.

"We've kind of been watching it, and now we are moving more from the watch stage and getting into that understand, or really imagine stage," Norris said.

Vegan meat replacements have taken the restaurant industry by storm in recent months.

In April, Burger King announced plans to roll out its vegan Impossible Whopper across the US by the end of 2019. Del Taco and Qdoba have added vegan tacos made with meat substitutes to the menu. Chains including TGI Fridays, Carl's Jr., and Red Robin serve either the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger. And, Beyond Meats' explosive IPO has proven that there is a demand - at least on Wall Street - for environmentally friendly meat replacements.

Read more: Beyond Meat CEO reveals his plan to convince meat eaters to eat vegan substitutes following the company's explosive IPO

Norris anticipates that every chain is going to have a "point of view" on plant-based menu items. Whether a brand rolls out its own version of an Impossible Whopper or decides against doing so will be a decision that says something specific about the chain.

So, does this mean that Chick-fil-A is going to be rolling out a chicken-free version of its famous fried-chicken sandwich?

"I think it goes back to how far will our customers want us to go," Norris said.

"We're certainly wanting to broaden our thinking and really start big in that funnel and come down," she continued. "We think it is certainly beyond just no meat on salads or no meat in a wrap. It might be some kind of alternative protein on a sandwich."

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