Plant-based chicken space heats up as Impossible Foods enters fray with nuggets

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Impossible Foods will showcase its new nuggets at the Dot Foods trade show next week. Picture credit: Impossible Foods
Impossible Foods will showcase its new nuggets at the Dot Foods trade show next week. Picture credit: Impossible Foods

Related tags plant-based chicken Impossible Foods Beyond meat plant-based

The plant-based chicken category is heating up with Impossible Foods unveiling plans to enter the market in the fall with soy-based nuggets, going head to head with rival Beyond Meat, which has just launched pea-, and faba bean-based tenders.

San Francisco-based Impossible Foods – which will show its nuggets to potential customers at the DOT Foods* Innovations trade show​ in St Louis next week - told FoodNavigator-USA it is not providing details on the formulation ahead of the launch in the fall, although president Dennis Woodside told Bloomberg​ that soy protein will form the base for the nuggets, which will not feature heme – the flagship ingredient in the Impossible Burger.

If the market for processed plant-based beef and pork products (burgers, sausages, grounds etc) is becoming increasingly crowded with food tech players, startups, and legacy plant-based brands now jostling for space with major CPG brands and the world’s biggest meat companies; plant-based chicken is quickly becoming just as competitive.

Players with offerings in the space include Quorn, Gardein (Conagra Brands), Morningstar Farms (Kellogg), BOCA (Kraft Heinz), Nestle (Sweet Earth Foods), Tofurky, and No Evil.

Lightlife Foods (Maple Leaf) has just upped the ante with plant-based chicken fillets; meat giant Tyson has entered the fray with Raised & Rooted nuggets; private label ranges are beginning to pop up from players including Target (Good & Gather) and Kroger (Simple Truth), and a wave of new players has recently entered the market including Livekindly, Alpha Foods, Daring Foods, NUGGS (Simulate), and Nowadays.

VFC – a fried chicken brand co-founded by Veganuary and Veg Capital co-founder Matthew Glover -- is also gearing up for a move into the US market.

Beyond Meat launches plant-based chicken tenders at restaurants nationwide

Beyond Meat – which first launched frozen plant-based chicken strips for the retail market in 2012, but withdrew them in 2019 - has not provided an ingredients list or nutritional breakdown for its new plant-based chicken tenders, currently rolling out to around 400 foodservice locations nationwide​,​ but said they included peas and faba beans, with 14g protein per serving and “40% less saturated fat than the leading foodservice chicken tender.”

The tenders “scored at parity in overall flavor to animal-based chicken tenders​” in testing with 200 consumers in May, said the firm, which recently announced​​​ global partnerships with McDonald’s and Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) and road-tested a fried plant-based chicken product with KFC in 2020. It has not yet named any high-profile restaurant chain partners for its new tenders.

impossible foods pat brown

San Francisco-based Impossible Foods​, founded in 2011 by Dr Pat Brown (pictured left), entered the foodservice market in 2016 and made an aggressive push into retail in 2020. It does not disclose revenues, but is now in around 22,000 grocery stores and 30,000+ foodservice locations across the US, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

The firm – which has a stated goal to “produce a full range of meats and dairy products for every cultural region in the world” ​​– ​​is best-known for its beef burgers and pork. However, it is also working on steak, seafood, and eggs, and ​recently​ teased​ a plant-based milk product claimed to be “better than anything that comes from a cow."

Although plant-based meats currently account for just 2% of the market, and the conventional meat industry continues to grow, Brown told delegates​ at the recent Future Food Tech alternative proteins conference that he remains “very confident that in five years, there will be beef, pork and chicken products made from plants that in the perception of mainstream consumers are more delicious, more nutritious, and more affordable than the slaughterhouse derived products that are available today. ​​

“And when you cross that threshold and familiarity,” ​​he said, “the adoption curve will be fast…"

*Dot Foods is the largest foodservice redistribution company in the US

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