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PECKING ORDER

KFC just launched a plant-based chicken sandwich in the UK

A branch of fast food outlet Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is seen in Cape Town, South Africa, June 3, 2016.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
Finger-lickin’ good?
  • Chase Purdy
By Chase Purdy

Food Reporter

The world’s most iconic fast food chicken chain this week (Jan. 6) announced the release of a new vegan chicken sandwich across the some 900 locations it operates in the United Kingdom. It’s calling the menu item the ‘Zero Chicken’ sandwich.

Quorn products are generally based on an ingredient called mycoprotein, which is derived from a fungus that is dried and then bound together with egg albumen or a vegan potato protein. In this case, the Quorn chicken product is seasoned with KFC’s own herb and spice mixtures.

New, plant-based offerings are popping up in fast-food restaurants, but they’ve largely been in burger form. There are very few vegan chicken options in the fast-food market, making this new sandwich a particularly timely addition—especially as a so-called chicken sandwich war broke out (paywall) in the US between Popeye’s, Chick-fil-a, and other fast-food chains.

Does a vegan offering stand a chance in that fight? At least for now, it appears it’ll remain an ocean away from the fray. If it performs well, KFC may begin testing a sandwich in other markets, including the US. And while Quorn is not the top name in plant-based meat alternatives—consumers are more likely familiar with Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods—it isn’t a small player. In 2018, it brought in some $31 million, reflecting about 19% in year-on-year growth.

This isn’t KFC’s first foray into vegan protein. In August 2019, the chain announced it was offering Beyond Meat chicken nuggets for a test run at one of its Atlanta locations. The restaurant sold out  within the first five hours. That was a test run for Beyond Meat as much as it was for KFC: The vegan meat maker only recently started developing a line of poultry products.

It’s unclear exactly why KFC chose to partner with Quorn in the UK, as opposed to another brand. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have largely focused on making beef analogs, so until they are ready to create and scale plant-based chicken, it’s possible that KFC wants to test consumer interest in one of its smaller, foreign markets until a higher-tech product is ready.

Certainly 2019 was a big year for plant-based beef and pork options at US fast-food chains. Beyond Meat started showing up on menu boards at Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, Tim Horton’s, Dunkin’, and Subway. Impossible Foods made headlines by getting into Qdoba and Burger King. Already 2020 could prove to be even more monumental, as rumors continue to circulate that the world’s biggest burger chain, McDonald’s, is looking to launch a vegan offering.

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