After Popular Demand, the Beyond Orange Chicken is Back at Panda Express

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Panda Express has brought back the vegan version of its flagship orange chicken with Beyond Meat, a welcome move for the latter’s foodservice struggles.

It took over 7,200 signatures on a 16-month-long petition for Panda Express to realise that enough people wanted its plant-based orange chicken back.

So finally, three years after what became one of the fast-food chain’s most successful regional launches ever, the Beyond Original Orange Chicken has returned to its US menu.

The vegan dish will be available at around 300 Panda Express locations nationwide. Like the first time, this rollout is on a limited-edition basis, although the companies suggest that “if consumer enthusiasm continues, there’s potential for expansion into additional Panda Express restaurants”.

Why Panda Express brought the Beyond Orange chicken back

beyond orange chicken
Courtesy: Panda Express

“Panda Express have discontinued serving the Beyond Meat orange chicken, the only vegan/vegetarian entree option. They have said this was due to the entree being a limited-time item, but the popularity should make them change their minds. Now, millions of people will not be able to have a full meal other than sides at Panda Express. The people are outraged,” read the petition.

A little history lesson: the orange chicken was first launched at Panda Express in 1987 and quickly became a favourite. It now makes up roughly a third of the chain’s business. Think about that. That’s one dish.

So when the Beyond Original Orange Chicken was introduced, there was a frenzy. On launch day, Panda Express sold 1,300 lbs of the dish in New York City and Southern California. Stores in the latter area actually sold out of the initial rollout within two weeks.

After a national rollout to over 2,300 locations, Panda Express finally ran out of the stock and gradually ended the offering. People were not happy.

“I am vegetarian and I am addicted to this chicken I have been craving it like crazy and it is madness that they don’t have it on the menu anymore,” one fan said on the petition. Another added: “IM VEGAN AND WANT ORANGE CHICKEN.”

“We’ve never received so many social media comments for guests begging for us to bring a dish back,” a Panda Express spokesperson told Fast Company. “It’s our #1 most requested dish on social media.”

Beyond Meat and its foodservice record

panda express beyond orange chicken
Courtesy: Panda Express

The return of the Beyond orange chicken is a certain win for the plant-based meat company. Both the business and the industry it’s in have taken their fair share of knocks in the last couple of years: Beyond Meat has had eight consecutive quarters of losses, while retail sales of plant-based meat fell by 12% in the US last year.

For Beyond Meat, foodservice has always been tricky. We’re here a week after McDonald’s US president said the company had no plans to bring back the McPlant – which uses Beyond Beef – after a trial run failed in “two very different markets” in San Francisco and Dallas.

In 2021, Beyond Meat announced a deal with Yum! Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell. It developed vegan chicken nuggets that were trialled and taken off the menu after a couple of months (they returned for another temporary period).

Del Taco took off Beyond Meat from its menu last spring after four years, citing “low sales” (though the partnership has been retained and new options are being explored). Carl’s Jr has also pulled back the number of stores it offers Beyond Meat options in.

So Panda Express’s move is important for Beyond Meat – whose US foodservice sales took a 16% hit last quarter – and encouraging for the plant-based sector, which is going through a consolidation period, according to Andy Jarvis, director of Future of Food at the Bezos Earth Fund, which is pouring $100M into research centres for alternative proteins.

“We’re in this for the long term, to make this succeed over the next two decades,” he told Green Queen in an interview this week. “It’s a tough time for the sector. But it’ll pull through.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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