By Sarah Collins
It’s about to get a lot better to be a burrito-loving vegan.
On Oct. 21, Chipotle will roll out its new “sofritas” filling in all 83 Chicagoland stores. The protein — shredded tofu braised with chilies, roasted poblanos and spices — will be available in a taco, burrito, bowl or salad and cost approximately the same as chicken, currently $7.45 in Chicago.
To make the protein feel like a fit on the menu, the tofu will take a spin through a meat grinder, rendering it more like spicy sausage than chunky tofu.
With an ingredient list that’s stayed virtually the same for 20 years, Chipotle’s taking a big step with its menu. “For us this is a big opportunity, because we’ve never done anything like this on this scale,” says Chipotle spokeswoman Danielle Winslow.
Chipotle has experimented with vegan options in the past. A “garden blend” was tested as an alternate filling in 2009, but didn’t earn the same scale as sofritas. Winslow claims the company was never satisfied with the blend of plant proteins, grains and veggies, and decided to scrap the recipe but keep the idea. In January 2011, Chipotle rolled out posole soup in Chicago, also vegan, but it has since been mothballed.
With sofritas expected to hit 600 of Chipotle’s 1,500 stores by the end of the year, tofu may end up being the winning ingredient. In California, where the protein was first tested in February, sofritas have accounted for 4 to 5 percent of total sales, a “significant” number according to Winslow. Of those sales, Winslow says 30 percent of buyers are also meat eaters, swapping in tofu occasionally or adding it to another protein like chicken.
“It’s been really interesting just going in and watching people try it for the first time and seeing those reactions of ‘Oh, this is tofu?’ or ‘Wow, this tastes really good,’” Winslow says.
If sofritas can appeal to Chipotle’s carnivores and vegetarians alike, it may just make itself a permanent menu addition. “We’re just going to continue to watch its progress and if it does well in this next round of rollouts, we’ll continue to look for new markets to introduce it to,” Winslow says. Chicago’s chances may not be wrecked if other markets don’t by in though. “It’s totally possible that this could be an item that maybe is never nationwide,” she says. “We’d just keep it in a few markets where it’s doing really well.”
Hear that Chicago? If you want it to stay, you’d better eat up