Finger Lickin' Good

KFC will soon serve Beyond Meat's chicken-less chicken across the U.S.

The vegan protein wars rage on.

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 08: A long queue of cars forms as the KFC drive through re-opens to the publ...
Dan Mullan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After toying with the idea for years, KFC will begin serving plant-based “chicken” at stores across the United States beginning January 10. The faux fried chicken will be made by Beyond Meat — a big win for the vegan protein company.

KFC says now is the best time to launch the new plant-based product because January is a time when people generally promise themselves they’ll make healthier food choices. The company’s U.S. president, Kevin Hochman, is keeping it real: This decision is about following the cash flow.

Beyond Meat

“This is really about where the customer is going,” Hochman said, “they want to eat more plant-based proteins.”

KFC’s parent company, Yum! Brands, has had a formal partnership with Beyond Meat for nearly a year now, so adding plant-based chicken to the menu was an inevitability, really. And Yum! owns plenty of other big chains — think Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — so fried “chicken” is just the beginning.

A long time coming — KFC and Beyond Meat have been hard at work on a plant-based menu option for quite a while now. Beyond’s plant-based chicken was given a first trial run as far back as August 2019 at a single store in Atlanta. The restaurant’s supply sold out in just hours. A few other locations soon followed suit.

Then, all quiet until now. KFC Canada has been testing a vegan chicken sandwich — made by Canadian brand Lightlife — since last summer. That sandwich has also sold incredibly well; in initial testing locations, the sandwich sold “over a month’s worth” of sandwiches in six hours.

But this is the first time the chain’s U.S. locations will offer vegan options on a broad basis. KFC has gone all-out on ramping up for the launch, even going as far as to poach executives Doug Ramsey and Bernie Adcock from competitor Tyson Foods.

The plant wars are on — Plant-based proteins have gone mainstream. No longer a fringe trend reserved for strict vegans, plant-based proteins are now a genuinely profitable opportunity for restaurants around the world.

It’s the companies actually making the proteins that will come out on top with these partnerships. Decisions about which producer gets the contract add up. McDonald’s’ choice of Beyond Meat is a particularly big win for Beyond; Impossible’s partnerships with White Castle and Burger King gives the company significant ground.

Plant-based chicken products have quickly become this war’s next battleground. With Impossible’s take on chicken rolling out in grocery stores across the U.S., this is still anyone’s game to win.