The (Plant-Based) Chicken Sandwich War

New manufacturers join the battle to produce a consumer-worthy product.

July 22, 2021

Plant Based Chicken Sandwich

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The chicken sandwich wars are moving to a new battleground, and the latest skirmish is all about plant-based chicken. The two leading plant-based meat companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have launched competing chicken products, reports FoodDive.com.

Last month, Beyond Chicken Tenders were introduced at about 400 U.S. restaurants nationwide, and Impossible Foods quickly followed with an announcement that its chicken nuggets will roll out this fall.  As NACS Daily reported earlier this week, Impossible Foods aims to help eliminate all animal-based meats within 15 years.

According to Dariush Ajami, chief innovation officer of Beyond Meat, the company has been working on improving its chicken product for years. In 2012, Beyond Meat first introduced plant-based chicken strips in grocery stores, but discontinued them in 2019, choosing to focus on ground meat and sausages. Now, the company is making another run at chicken tenders, derived from fava bean protein. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods has been mum about its planned launch of chicken nuggets, which are made of soy with sunflower oil to make the product juicy.

Sales of plant-based chicken are growing at a rate of 18%, which is lower than the average for the whole plant-based meat category, but more than four times as high as sales of authentic chicken, which has grown at a rate of 4%, according to data from market analysis provider SPINS.

So far in 2021, there have been several plant-based chicken launches, plus huge funding rounds for startups and plans for international food manufacturers to expand to the U.S. Jeff Crumpton, a SPINS retail business consultant, said chicken analogs are the second most consumed plant-based meat product category today, after beef-like burgers. Plant-based options are an expanding alternative for consumers and manufacturers, as chicken makes up 45% of meat consumed, said Emma Ignaszewski, corporate engagement project manager for The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes alternative proteins.

Poultry—especially chicken—has slowly taken over as U.S. consumers' preferred meat. In 2020, the average American ate 97.6 pounds of chicken, and chicken consumption is rapidly expanding worldwide. Chicken has edged out beef and pork in part due to low prices and the perception that it is healthier than its competitors. During the pandemic, some consumers started to consider adding plant-based meat to their diets.

To see how consumers are continuing to gravitate towards Plant-Based Foods, read “Plant-Based Food Takes Root” in NACS Magazine. Read more about the "Chicken Sandwich Wars" in the May issue of NACS Magazine.

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