A year ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken had no plans to put plant-based chicken on its menu in the U.S. But tomorrow, the chain will become the first national quick-service restaurant to introduce the food, beginning with a limited test in a single Atlanta restaurant.
KFC worked with Beyond Meat, known for supplying plant-based beef to chains like Carl’s Jr. and Del Taco, to develop “Beyond Fried Chicken,” available as nuggets and boneless wings. In May, not long after Burger King announced plans to offer the plant-based Impossible Burger nationwide, KFC’s U.S. president, Kevin Hochman, told Business Insider that he’d started meeting with potential suppliers to talk about the possibility of alternative chicken, something that he hadn’t considered seriously in the past. “If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said no, to be completely honest with you,” he said at the time. “Because, we’re about fried chicken.”
In the U.K., KFC launched a version of vegan chicken in June, with its “Imposter” burger made with a “chicken” fillet made from Quorn, which sold out in four days with sales 500% higher than the chicken-based version. The U.S. part of the chain chose to use Beyond’s version of chicken because it closely replicated the taste of KFC’s regular chicken; in a release, Hochman said that customers “will find it difficult to tell that it’s plant-based.” In an R&D lab, Beyond Meat carefully works to duplicate the exact texture and flavor of animal-based meat.
Beyond CEO Ethan Brown calls the KFC launch a “tipping point” for the chicken category. It’s one more sign of the explosive growth of plant-based meat. Sales of the food have grown 37% over the past two years in the U.S., according to research from the nonprofit Good Food Institute, which compares plant-based meat to the early stages of plant-based dairy; right now, plant-based meat makes up 2% of the total market for meat sales, whereas plant-based dairy makes up 13%. Closing that gap is a market opportunity worth $9 billion.