Two restaurant chains announced this week that they are expanding plant-based menu options nationwide, the latest sign that alt-meat is having its moment.

Kentucky Fried Chicken said its plant-based chicken, developed by Beyond Meat, would be available nationwide starting Monday. Chipotle announced that its plant-based chorizo is now available at U.S. restaurant locations. Both companies say the plant-based options are available for a limited time.

“The mission from day one was simple — make the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken from plants,” KFC President Kevin Hochman said in a statement. For KFC, the nationwide expansion follows a test run of its “Beyond Fried Chicken” that began in 2019.

The announcements come amid an expanding landscape for plant-based alternative meats — with options increasing in restaurants and in grocery stores. Nutrition and food experts say it’s no surprise that the companies would want to seize on the trend, as more consumers become aware of the proteins and as the items become increasingly available. It may also signal that more restaurants will continue to expand and launch plant-based offerings.

“It’s no longer fringe for a company to be doing this — it’s becoming mainstream, and more are seeing it as a necessity” to offer such options, said Sean Cash, an economist with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Cash also pointed to conditions that have factored into the growth in demand and availability of plant-based proteins. At a time when the pandemic pushed more to shop and eat at home, more meat alternatives were available in some stores, Cash said. He added that supply chain issues with traditional meats may have pushed consumers to try the alternatives. That also comes amid increased awareness of the environmental impact of animal-based products, he said.

The chains are “targeting the still relatively small but rapidly growing segment of the population interested in plant-based alternatives to meat, which is increasingly understood to be potentially harmful to health and the environment,” Marion Nestle, a professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said in an email to The Washington Post.

Nestle said the companies “must think there is a market for plant-based alternatives and want to bring people who want these alternatives into their stores.”

Cash said that particularly for KFC — which he said has been seen as an “indulgence brand” and hasn’t been known for offering plant-based alternatives — this change is a “way of expanding the potential consumer base.”

It may bring in new consumers who may have otherwise objected to buying fast food. It can also help a restaurant overcome the “veto vote,” he said.

“Let’s say someone is bringing a bunch of kids for a fast meal,” he said. “If you don’t have products that will speak to everyone … you might lose out.”

For Chipotle, this is an extension of what it has already been doing, he added. Chipotle said the plant-based chorizo is its “second-ever vegan protein on a national stage.”

KFC said in a statement sent to The Post that it’s targeting “flexitarians” who may not be vegan or vegetarian but may be interested in incorporating fewer animal-based proteins in their diet. It noted that while the Beyond Fried Chicken is plant-based, it will be prepared in common fryers and as a result may not be acceptable to all vegetarian and vegan diets.

Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, Chris Brandt, noted in a statement that as plant-based lifestyles “have continued to accelerate in popularity … we are exploring ways to give more variety to our fans who are committed to meatless diets as well as guests who are trying plant-based proteins for the first time.”

For people curious about plant-based proteins, seeing the option at a restaurant they frequent may be enough to push them to try it, experts said.

“Consider this hypothetical: a group comes in and one of them orders the plant-based option. Maybe some of the others would be curious and ask for a taste,” Nestle said. “‘Hmm. Tastes pretty good. Maybe I’ll try that.’”

Both companies signaled that while the new products will be available for a limited time, they will evaluate and consider whether to offer them again or longer-term.

Cash noted that KFC and Chipotle are not the first chains to offer plant-based menu items.

“The more chains go into this, the easier it is for more chains to try it,” he said.

Read more: