Fast-food is going vegan, and KFC is leading the way—who could have guessed.
KFC—which is the second-largest chain restaurant in the entire world—has now introduced plant-based Kentucky fried chicken at branches in the UK and Europe, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and across the U.S. and Canada.
In the U.S., KFC partnered with Californian vegan protein producer Beyond Meat. In the UK, Quorn, and in Canada, Lightlife. KFC is even currently working on lab-grown nuggets—a non-vegetarian but potentially sustainable alternative to traditional animal products—in Russia.
According to vegan nonprofit the Good Food Institute (GFI), U.S. sales of plant-based meat will reach $1 billion for the first time ever in 2020. Numerator, a market intelligence company, has said that this increase is primarily due to curious meat-eaters and those eating a plant-forward or flexitarian diet.
This flexitarian market is the target audience for KFC’s plant-based meat. And the popularity of KFC’s vegan fried chicken with its diverse customer base certainly indicates a growing overall demand for animal-free foods.
So where exactly is this famous plant-based KFC available? And what’s on the menu?
Beyond Fried Chicken Sells Out
When KFC first launched its Beyond Fried Chicken at Cobb Parkway, Atlanta, the meaty vegan options sold out fast. Really fast.
While KFC wasn’t the only fast-food chain to add vegan meat to the menu in 2019—or to expand options in 2020—it may be the only one to sell 100 percent of its products in less than five hours.
Kevin Hochman, the president and chief concept officer of KFC U.S., said in a statement that KFC’s vegan chicken is “so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it’s plant-based.”
Customers queued around the block, and their response to Beyond Fried Chicken was overwhelmingly positive. The company’s collaboration with Beyond Meat made KFC the first quick-service-restaurant in the U.S. to launch plant-based fried chicken.
In addition to KFC, Beyond Meat has partnered with various fast-food chains including Del Taco, Tim Horton’s, Carl’s Jr., A&W Canada, and Dunkin’.
“KFC is an iconic part of American culture and a brand that I, like so many consumers, grew up with,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat.
“To be able to bring Beyond Fried Chicken, in all of its KFC inspired deliciousness, to market speaks to our collective ability to meet the consumer where they are and accompany them on their journey,” he added.
KFC says that its plant-based options may not be suitable for strict vegetarians and vegans due to the company’s cooking methods. But certain branches prepare plant-based menu items such as fries in a separate fryer. The Beyond Meat chicken itself is 100 percent plant-based. While certain KFC side orders are also vegan-friendly, including green beans, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.
New and Improved Texture
During the initial one-day trial in Atlanta last year, KFC offered Beyond Fried chicken as boneless wings or chicken nuggets. Each option available as six or 12-piece combo meals.
But while the initial launch of KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken was extremely successful, both companies sought to improve the product before additional trials. According to Beyond Meat CEO and founder Ethan Brown, creating “realistic” plant-based poultry brought its own challenges.
“One of the key things with poultry is you have to get the muscle structure right,” Brown told Business Insider. “With something that’s ground, you don’t have to have that same muscle structure, but with chicken, the consumer wants that muscle structure.”
The new-and-improved recipe is available as wings or nuggets and tossed in either Honey BBQ, Buffalo, or Nashville Hot Sauce. Customers, reviewers, and journalists alike praised the chicken’s realistic texture and flavor.
Rather than a soft, processed chicken nugget-style texture, Beyond Fried Chicken has a chicken-breast-style grain to it. Many customers commented that it was the most realistic vegan fried chicken they had ever tasted.
Where Can I Get Vegan KFC?
Last month, KFC announced an additional trial of the new recipe in Southern California. The test will take place in over 50 stores across Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County, for a limited time only.
“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer at KFC, said in a statement.
At the start of 2020, KFC and Beyond trialed the new fried chicken recipe at more than 70 locations. Including Charlotte, Nashville, and the surrounding areas, again receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from customers.
“We know the east coast loved it,” he added. “So we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.”
Vegan Kentucky Fried Chicken in Canada
KFC’s U.S. restaurants are still trialing vegan options. But the brand has added a permanent plant-based menu across Canada and the UK. In Canada, KFC has partnered with plant-based meat producer Lightlife on the Plant-Based Fried Chicken Sandwich and Plant-Based Popcorn Chicken.
“When we tested Plant-Based KFC by Lightlife late last year, we sold over a month’s worth of sandwiches in six hours,” said Samantha Redman, Chief Marketing Officer at KFC Canada, in a press release.
“Seeing the extraordinary demand for Plant-Based KFC, we worked quickly to bring these menu items to our restaurants across Canada,” she added.
The Plant-Based KFC sandwich has been available permanently in Canada since August 10. While the Plant-Based KFC Popcorn is available only while stocks last.
“The Plant-Based KFC sandwich delivers the same great taste of chicken,” said Dan Curtin, President of Greenleaf Foods, SPC, the owner of Lightlife. “But made with plants.”
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