Panda Express sold over 115 million pounds of its Orange Chicken last year, without the help of plant-based customers. This week, America’s largest Asian-inspired dining chain has an opportunity to reach even more customers, as it revives its plant-based Beyond The Original Chicken, offering a meatless option designed to replicate the crunchy texture and sweet flavor of the chain’s most popular menu item.

Beginning September 7, Panda Express’ new plant-based entree will be available at all 2,300 locations nationwide. Back by popular demand, the Beyond The Original Orange Chicken marries Panda Express’ fast-food experience with Beyond Meat’s sustainable, plant-based protein. Now, customers will have the option to avoid chicken and choose a more sustainable option at any Panda Express location in the U.S.

“Our team has been overjoyed by the undeniable excitement and incredible demand generated when we first introduced Beyond The Original Orange Chicken last summer as an innovative twist on our most iconic dish,” Andrea Cherng, Chief Brand Officer at Panda Express, said. “After nearly 40 years of creating original American Chinese dishes, quality and innovation remain at the core of who we are. We’re continuously exploring creative ways to present our guests with the comfort and crave-ability they can expect from Panda while appealing to their evolving preferences and tastes.”

Panda Express and Beyond Meat first teamed up in 2021, releasing the Beyond The Original Orange Chicken at New York City and Southern Califonia locations for a limited launch. Immediately, Panda Express saw firsthand how hungry customers are for affordable, plant-based options. The fast-casual chain sold more than 1,300 pounds of plant-based orange chicken on the first day alone.

Following the initial success, Panda Express expanded its new menu item to 10 additional states including California, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. With success in all ten markets, the national chain is testing the meatless orange chicken as a permanent menu item in 45 states.

To promote the release, Panda Express and Beyond will host a traveling Panda Express Recharge Station at 10 college campuses. Students will be given free samples of the plant-based entree, prizes, and more.

Panda Express Tests New Plant-Based Entrees

This January, Panda Express worked with Beyond again to develop two additional plant-based dishes. The Mapo Tofu with Beyond Beef and the String Beans with Beyond Beef became available for one month at the brand’s Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, California. The plant-based meat option will significantly bulk up Panda Express’ plant-based options. The Beyond The Original Orange Chicken marks the first meatless option to reach a national customer base.

"We are thrilled to offer Beyond The Original Orange Chicken to consumers nationwide for the very first time,” Dariush Ajami, Chief Innovation Officer at Beyond Meat, stated. “By partnering with Panda Express to introduce new and innovative plant-based options that deliver the delicious taste and experience of their iconic menu items, we’re enabling people to enjoy their favorite dishes with the upsides of plant-based meat.”

America's Vegan Fast Food Frenzy

Despite Beyond Meat's wavering stock prices, the plant-based meat company's fast food presence continues to expand. Currently, Beyond Meat is working closely with Yum! Brands – the parent company that owns Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell. While Taco Bell and Beyond Meat perfect their vegan option, Taco Bell is testing its own meatless beef in Birmingham locations until mid-October.

Current estimates expect the vegan fast-food market to reach $40 billion by 2028. In recent years, the vegan fast food market has been driven by major brands such as Taco Bell and Panda Express, but recently, smaller, exclusively plant-based chains have popped up in the United States. Two California-based eateries, Plant Power Fast Food and Noomo, have partnered with franchising firms to help solidify a national presence. Recently, Kevin Hart entered the competition as well with his new vegan fast food concept Hart House.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles

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