KFC is to deviate from Colonel Sanders’ original “finger lickin’ good” recipe by offering nuggets made from plants, rather than its traditional chickens.
The fast-food chain said it was working with the rapidly growing meat substitute company Beyond Meat on a one-day trial that if successful would lead to plant-based chicken nuggets and wings appearing on its US menu. KFC, which is owned by the New York stock exchange-listed Yum! Brands, has more than 23,000 restaurants around the world.
The product is called Beyond Fried Chicken and comes with the tagline “a Kentucky fried miracle”. The nuggets are presented in green rather than KFC’s trademark red containers and carry the promise that what’s inside is “still finger lickin’ good”. The limited trial involves giving out free samples to customers. Kevin Hochman, the chief concept officer of KFC US, claimed customers would “find it difficult to tell” the nuggets were plant-based.
Shares in Beyond Meat jumped by 4% after the trial was announced, with Yum! rising by 1.3%.
KFC is the latest in a long line of food companies that are trying to appeal to the growing number of people following a flexitarian – where meat is eaten only occasionally – or completely plant-based diet. Beyond Meat’s main competitor, Impossible Foods, has, for example, launched a meatless Whopper at Burger King.
The menus are changing in the UK too as veganism spreads rapidly, with the number increasing from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018, according to the Vegan Society. Manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants are scrambling to cash in on the expanding market, with the consumer goods giant Unilever buying up the meat substitute company the Vegetarian Butcher and Sainsbury’s opening a pop-up meat-free butcher to encourage Britons to try plant-based foods.
Last week Greggs said it was working on vegan versions of all its bestselling products, from steak bakes to pasties and doughnuts, after the success of its vegan sausage roll.
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The strength of consumer demand for meat alternatives has encouraged investors to pour money into companies that look likely to prosper. Beyond Meat’s shares have rocketed since its flotation in May. Having debuted at $25 (£20), they are now changing hands for more than $150, with the company valued at close to $9bn.
The trouble with fake meat
Based in El Segundo, California, Beyond Meat was founded a decade ago by the technology entrepreneur Ethan Brown and its early backers included Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio. Its first product was chicken-free chicken strips. which were later discontinued. Its website says it has been working on a “better, tastier version”. It is not clear if this new recipe is the basis for the KFC products.
Beyond Fried Chicken is made with plant-based wheat protein, unlike other products such as its burgers which use pea protein.Last year British supermarkets started selling its burger that “bleeds” beetroot juice.
Animal rights group PETA, which has criticised KFC’s welfare standards, welcomed KFC’s decision to trial Beyond Fried Chicken – and hopes this vegan alternative will rolled out across its restaurants.
“After a long campaign against ‘Kentucky Fried Cruelty,’ PETA is delighted to offer its support for the new vegan chicken at KFC in Atlanta,” said Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice-president.
“As smart businesses race to meet the sky-high demand for tasty vegan options, if this rollout of Beyond Fried Chicken goes national, it would almost certainly mean profits by the bucketful—and countless chickens’ lives saved,” Reiman added.