Beyond Meat hits Panda Express locations nationwide for a limited time with Beyond The Original Chicken

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Beyond The Original Chicken is available at 2,400+ US locations until November 30, while supplies last. Image credit: Beyond Meat
Beyond The Original Chicken is available at 2,400+ US locations until November 30, while supplies last. Image credit: Beyond Meat

Related tags Beyond meat Panda Express plant-based chicken plant-based plant-based meat

Panda Express is rolling out Beyond: The Original Orange Chicken – a “plant-powered” entrée co-developed with Beyond Meat – to 2,300+ US locations until November 30, while supplies last, following a successful small-scale trial in 2021.

While Panda Express had witnessed “incredible demand​” for the faba-bean-fueled entrée during tests in 70 stores in 10 markets last summer, chief brand officer Andrea Cherng said the national rollout would be for “a limited time while supplies last​” rather than an addition to the chain’s permanent menu at this stage.

The limited-time test is one of a series of high-profile foodservice trials for Beyond Meat, which has forged partnerships with several leading chains in recent years including Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell), McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr, Peet’s Coffee, Dunkin’, Denny’s, Del Taco, A&W, Bareburger, and TGI Friday’s.

Beyond Meat has a presence in 41,000+ foodservice locations in the US (with sales down -2.4% YoY in Q2) and 31,000+ foodservice locations internationally (with sales +7% YoY in Q2).

Foodservice partnerships with Yum! Brands, McDonald’s

Yum! Brands has recently tested Beyond Fried Chicken at KFC outlets nationwide in a limited time offer, while Beyond Meat has secured spots on the permanent menu at Pizza Hut in Singapore, El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada and the UK, and tested a plant-based pepperoni pizza topping in the US for a limited time.   

McDonald's, in turn, has just started a 270-store test of the McPlant (featuring a Beyond Meat patty) in Australia, initiated further tests in China, added McPlant to its core menu in the UK, and told Farming Independent​ ​it is “delighted” with the burger’s performance in Ireland.

In Austria, following the nationwide limited time offer of a second McPlant build – the McPlant Steakhouse -- McDonald's started a nationwide limited time offer of a third McPlant build, the 'McPlant Tasty,' inspired by McDonald's Big Tasty burger. 

In McDonald’s US operation, however, the picture is less clear, with analysts at Piper Sandler saying they are “increasingly concerned that no national launch may be coming”​ given the “crickets” from the fast-food chain since a 600-store test ended in April.

Quizzed about the partnership on Beyond Meat’s latest earnings call,​ however, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown hinted that we should not read too much into the radio silence: "Tests are done for all kinds of reasons. They're done to determine pricing. They're done to determine the build, they're done to check out incrementality, and they get the results, and then they make assessments.”

Analyst:  ‘For KFC, we believe the product sold well enough to earn a spot on the menu, but the higher product cost negated franchisee profits’

In a note issued after the results came out last month, Peter Saleh, managing director, restaurants, at BTIG, said "extensive channel checks​" ​with McDonald's and KFC franchisees indicated "that while neither test was a wild success, the products are too important to the brands' ESG commitments to ignore."​

He added: "We expect McPlant will be tweaked and retested at some point in the future, but don't expect a national launch this year ... For KFC, we believe the product sold well enough to earn a spot on the menu, but the higher product cost negated franchisee profits."

Beyond The Original Chicken

The signature dish at Panda Express, The Original Orange Chicken is crispy chunks of battered and fried chicken tossed in a sweet and spicy, orange-scented sauce. The Beyond variant (pictured left) features plant-based chicken made with faba beans and vital wheat gluten as a base and is prepared with the same cooking equipment as the chain’s meat products.

Beyond Meat – which first launched frozen soy- and pea-based chicken strips for the retail market in 2012, but withdrew them in 2019 – started testing an upgraded plant-based chicken nugget with KFC in 2020, and initiated a wider rollout of a plant-based chicken tender in restaurants last year boasting “40% less saturated fat than the leading foodservice chicken tender​.”

It has not released the ingredients list for Beyond The Original Orange Chicken, but its Beyond Chicken tenders for the foodservice market are made from a base of faba bean protein, vital wheat gluten, pea and corn starch, expeller-pressed canola oil, and methylcellulose.  

They also contain titanium dioxide, a whitening agent that is approved by the FDA​​, although the European​​ Food Safety Authority​​​ says it “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive,” ​​prompting many manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic to attempt to find alternatives.

Plant-based chicken wars

Prompted by the ‘chicken sandwich wars’ in foodservice and saturation in the beef patty market, there has been a wave of launches in chicken alternatives over the past couple of years, with new upgraded offerings from legacy brands such as Gardein, Morningstar Farms, Lightlife, and Quorn; private label ranges from players including Target (Good & Gather) and Kroger (Simple Truth); and a wave of new players from OZO, TiNDLE, Rebellyous Foods, Skinny Butcher, Alpha Foods, Daring Foods, and NUGGS (Simulate) to Nowadays and VFC.

Impossible Foods – which has been rolling out plant-based chicken nuggets and patties at retail - is also testing plant-based chicken products with Burger King,​ ​while the Better Meat Co and Meati Foods have developed new fermentation-based ‘whole cut’ chicken products using fungi.

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