Please send plant-based news to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine’s Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

KFC Tries Out Plant-Based Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken® becomes the first national U.S. QSR (quick service restaurant) to introduce a plant-based chicken, in partnership with Beyond Meat®. Beyond Fried Chicken™ will make its debut August 27 in a limited test. 

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The new plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken offers the finger lickin’ good fried chicken flavor only KFC can deliver as a perfect choice for those searching for plant-based meat options on-the-go. 

Atlantans will be the first to get a taste of KFC’s new Beyond Fried Chicken as part of an exclusive, one restaurant test on August 27 at the Cobb Parkway restaurant near SunTrust Park in Atlanta (2637 Cobb Pkwy South East, Smyrna, Ga.). 

Beyond Fried Chicken is available in nuggets with choice of favorite dipping sauce, like KFC’s signature Finger Lickin’ Good sauce, or boneless wings tossed in one of three delicious sauce options: Nashville Hot, Buffalo or Honey BBQ. 

Those who want to be among the first to try the new plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken are invited to stop by the Cobb Parkway restaurant for a complimentary sample of Beyond Fried Chicken from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, August 27 (with purchase of any KFC menu item, while supplies last).

KFC guests who want to make it a meal can pick from several Colonel-approved Beyond Fried Chicken options:

  • Nuggets available in six or 12-piece combo meals (which include a side and medium drink) for $6.49 and $8.49, or four-piece à la carte for $1.99. 
  • Boneless wings available in six or 12-piece options for $6 and $12 (tax extra).

“KFC Beyond Fried Chicken is so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it’s plant-based,” said Kevin Hochman, president and chief concept officer, KFC U.S. “I think we’ve all heard ‘it tastes like chicken’ – well our customers are going to be amazed and say, ‘it tastes like Kentucky Fried Chicken!'”

KFC turned to plant-based leader, Beyond Meat, to create a finger lickin’ good plant-based fried chicken that will appeal to lovers of both Beyond Meat and KFC. Customer feedback from the Atlanta test will be considered as KFC evaluates a broader test or potential national rollout.  

“KFC is an iconic part of American culture and a brand that I, like so many consumers, grew up with. To be able to bring Beyond Fried Chicken, in all of its KFC-inspired deliciousness to market, speaks to our collective ability to meet the consumer where they are and accompany them on their journey. My only regret is not being able to see the legendary Colonel himself enjoy this important moment,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO, Beyond Meat.

Beyond Meat began developing its revolutionary plant-based meat in 2009 and since then has introduced several breakthrough products across the brand’s beef, pork and poultry platforms. The announcement of plant-based chicken makes the KFC and Beyond Meat partnership a unique one and the first of its kind in the U.S. QSR space. 

KFC has a history of frequently testing unique and craveable menu items as a part of the brand’s food innovation strategy, considering food trends and evaluating customer feedback to KFC’s test offerings. This limited, one-restaurant test of Beyond Fried Chicken is part of KFC’s continued commitment to understanding its consumers’ tastes and preferences.

Plant-Based Meat Mythbusting

Numerator learned the commonly-held belief that “plant-based meat alternatives are for vegans and vegetarians” is incorrect. According to Numerator’s survey of more than one thousand plant-based meat buyers, dietary restrictions are not a top reason shoppers are trying plant-based meat alternatives. Health and curiosity are the primary drivers of plant-based meat purchases, though vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be motivated by environmental and ethical concerns. Further, nearly half of meat alternative buyers (48 percent) have no meat-avoidant members in their household, and only 30 percent have a vegetarian or vegan in the household.

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Who’s Buying Plant-Based Meat Alternatives?

Numerator discovered that shoppers are typically high-income, highly educated Millennials of varying ethnicities living in urban areas. Plant-based meat alternatives are reaching a broad audience as 93 percent of buyers purchase these products for themselves, 45 percent purchase for their spouse or significant other, 28 percent purchase for children, and 26 percent purchase for a friend or another adult.

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What Consumers Are Saying About Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

Numerator’s data showed that consumers love the taste, perceived healthiness, and the fact that these products don’t involve harming animals and are better for the environment. Most significantly, three out of four triers believe plant-based meat alternatives are healthier than real meat.

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Overall, the feedback on these products is overwhelmingly positive: 62 percent of triers are very or extremely satisfied, 83 percent would recommend to someone else, and 81 percent would try other types of plant-based meat alternative products. Only 15 percent think this is a temporary fad, indicating that people like plant-based meat alternatives, and they don’t think they’re going away anytime soon. However, real meat is still preferred by half of its triers.

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What does this mean for plant-based meat alternatives?

Numerator discovered that half of meat alternative buyers ate more alternatives, and nearly 40 percent ate less real meat in the past year – and it shows with Beyond Meat purchases. Plant-based meat buyers are shifting their grocery dollars away from pork, eggs, and cheese. In addition, in-store purchases are likely accompanied by produce staples and non-dairy alternatives, as dairy alternatives shoppers are shifting their spending away from dairy products just as quickly.

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Plant-based meat alternatives will not be slowing down

Numerator’s data showed that 80 percent intend to replace some/all real meat with plant-based meat alternatives in the next year. But, finding plant-based alternatives are still a little rare, as a quarter of buyers have trouble locating meat alternative options at their usual grocery store.

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Advertising Is On-Target

Numerator found that the ad spend for meat alternatives has increased significantly in the first half of 2019. Meat alternative triers learned about the option from family, friends, or seeing it in-stores and on menus. In addition, Numerator Ad Intel data indicates that brands seem to have done their homework, targeting consumers who love the taste of meat rather than those with dietary restrictions, while still highlighting the health benefits.

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Numerator’s POV:

  • Within the past year, plant-based meat alternatives have become a phenomenon across the nation—even among consumers who don’t identify as vegan or vegetarian. So much so, shoppers are willing to trade off the taste and texture of real meat for health, environmental, and ethical reasons.
  • Brands wanting to jump onto this movement need to do a few things, this includes:
  • Developing products that prioritize the benefits of plant-based eating as health and environmental benefits of plant-based alternatives are key purchase drivers.
  •  Investing in product innovation as consumers have communicated an openness to branching out to other plant-based meat alternatives like fish and chicken.
  • Providing more affordable options since there are a few dominant plant-based brands available in grocery stores and many triers are concerned about the cost of these products.
  • And, continuing to promote the ‘likeness’ to real meat as half of triers still prefer the taste of real meat, but are willing to make a trade-off for other benefits.
  • Retailers need to consider plant-based alternatives if they aren’t already carrying these products. Consumers are having difficulty finding these items at their regular store, and they tend to spend significantly more on all grocery items than the average shopper – ultimately driving store-wide performance across other categories. If you’re a retailer already carrying these products, consider in-store displays/expanding shelf-space to help valuable shoppers find these products and support the anticipated growth, which will bring higher spend trips to your store.

Kalera Continues Growth of Vertical Farming

Eco Convergence Group officially changed its name to Kalera and begun construction of a state-of-the-art indoor growing facility in Orlando, which will provide an abundance of healthy, tasty greens for the hospitality, grocery, and food service industries.

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Last year, the company opened the first of several planned hydroponics HyCube growing centers with the completion of a facility located on the premises of the Orlando World Center Marriott. Kalera is now scaling operations to include a new growing facility, which will be the single largest indoor vertical farm of its kind in the Southeastern United States. Kalera will begin production at the new indoor farm sometime in Q4 of 2019 and is projected to grow over 5 million heads of lettuce annually.

“Our goal at Kalera is to harness plant and data science to deliver new economies of scale in agriculture, making it possible for more people to have access to high-quality, non-GMO, clean, nutritious food, locally grown without the use of pesticides—no matter the season,” said Cristian Toma, CEO of Kalera. “We have proven the technology and refined our production methods to a point where we are ready to scale up.”  

“Kalera produce is like none other—it’s not just delicious, it’s also clean and beautiful,” said Eric Martinez, Executive Chef, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center. “Having access to Kalera’s exceptional produce year-round opens up limitless possibilities to expand our menu and create new dishes that delight patrons. Many restaurants pride themselves on sourcing ingredients from farms 50 to 100 miles away. We are thrilled to say that we are sourcing our greens from 50 feet away.”

Central to Kalera’s business is the idea of good science. The company is planting non-GMO seed, and has perfected over the past years plant and data science driven methods to optimize nutrient mixtures, light recipes, and environmental controls resulting in highly nutritious vegetables with consistent high quality year-round. Kalera is simply working with nature to give plants what they need to thrive, ensuring they reach their full growing and nutritive potential. By using a closed loop irrigation system, Kalera’s plants grow while consuming 95 percent less water compared to field farming. Furthermore, the company utilizes cleanroom technology and processes to eliminate the use of chemicals and remove exposure to pathogens. With indoor facilities situated right where the demand is, Kalera is able to supply an abundance of produce locally, eliminating the need to travel long distances when shipping perishable products and ensuring the highest quality and freshness.

 The company plans for accelerated growth and will build additional facilities as production capacity is further expanded in the US and internationally. 

Cell-Based Seafood

BlueNalu, a leading innovative food company producing seafood directly from fish cells, announced today its commercialization strategy and food facility design schematics for large-scale production. This is the first time that any company has provided facility design schematics illustrating the vision for large-scale production of foods via cellular agriculture or aquaculture.

“We have developed an optimal strategy for scaling up production of cell-based seafood from a variety of finfish, crustaceans and mollusks to meet global demand,” stated Lou Cooperhouse, president & CEO of BlueNalu. “BlueNalu will provide products that are healthy for people, humane for sea life, and sustainable for our planet. As a result, we can have a major impact on supplementing our global supply chain for seafood.”

BlueNalu has created a five-phase commercialization strategy that starts with R&D and small-scale pilot testing, evolves to a phase that enables market research testing, and culminates in food facilities that are 150,000 sq. ft. under roof. It is anticipated that each facility will produce up to 18-million pounds of finished seafood products per year, or about 72 million four-oz seafood fillets or equivalent units per year. BlueNalu is currently entering its first phase of development, producing whole seafood medallions and fillets at pilot-scale. The company plans to introduce products into a test market in two to three years, and break ground on its first large-scale production facility in five years. This production facility will meet Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines and comply with regulatory requirements determined by the FDA for food production.

“Over the past year, we have engaged with bioprocessing and food engineering specialists, as well as architects that specialize in food facility design and construction, to determine the optimal process flow and the underlying assumptions that will result in maximum production capacity and flexibility, and minimal capital and operational costs. As can be seen from our schematics, each production facility will look like a hybrid between a microbrewery and a conventional food production facility. BlueNalu’s food facilities will produce an array of raw and cooked, fresh and frozen seafood products that are prepared in a trusted and familiar way,” said Cooperhouse.

The BlueNalu facilities will each be designed to serve regional population centers, initially focused on serving countries in North America, Asia, and Europe, where there is the greatest current and projected per capita consumption of seafood. The company intends to replicate its initial facility to dozens of locations across the globe, making continual operational enhancements along the way, and selecting varieties of fish, product applications, and marketing channels to meet the needs of each selected region. BlueNalu’s strategy will contribute to a more stable global supply chain for seafood, in a way that supports the health, sustainability and biodiversity of our ocean.

BlueNalu believes that now is the time to move forward with its commercialization strategy in light of significant progress made in the proliferation of its cell lines. “We have recently developed stable fish muscle cell lines of multiple species, and accomplished this without using genetic engineering,” said Chris Dammann, PhD, CTO of BlueNalu. “This is critical, since large-scale production of seafood products will require a reliable and consistent supply of real fish muscle cells.”

BlueNalu plans to produce seafood from species that are overfished, primarily imported, contain higher levels of mercury and other environmental pollutants, and/or are difficult to farm-raise. It also will focus initially on seafood that commands a premium price and has strong consumer familiarity.

“We are pleased that consumers world-wide are embracing alternative proteins,” said Cooperhouse. “BlueNalu is excited to announce that large-scale production of cell-based seafood is achievable in the near term.”

Trejo’s Adds More Vegan Items

The Trejo’s brand will add another couple of vegan menu items with the Beyond Asada Taco and Burrito. Trejo’s Tacos/Trejo’s Cantina already offers a Cauliflower Taco, Jackfruit Taco & Burrito and the Mushroom Asada Taco & Burrito. The Beyond Asada taco will be the same as the Steak Asada Taco and will include Beyond Meat, Verde Slaw, Citrus Marinade & Pepita Pesto on a Corn Tortilla. The Beyond Burrito will be the same as the Steak Asada Burrito but with no cheese.  

Trejo’s Beyond Meat Taco

The Beyond Asada Tacos and Burrito is available at all Trejo’s Tacos and Trejo’s Cantina locations.    

Taco Del Mar Goes Beyond

aco Del Mar is introducing plant-based protein to its current vegetarian and vegan menu with its new Beyond Meat® Taco, top photo.. Beginning August 20, the taco chain is its new offering at 10 restaurant locations, spread between Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC. 

The Beyond Meat Taco features the  plant-based Beyond Beef® Feisty Crumbles mixed with medium chipotle salsa, diced onions and minced serrano peppers, topped with shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and jalapeños served on warm corn tortillas. The plant-based protein is also available to try in any other popular item such as a burrito, enchiladas, taco salad or quesadilla. 

“We always strive to introduce innovative and high-quality items to our guests with new craveable flavor profiles,” said Chef Mike Gieseman, Director of Culinary and Innovation for REGO Restaurant Group, which owns Taco Del Mar. “Introducing Beyond Meat’s delicious product to our menu allows us to expand on our vegetarian offerings while continuing to embrace our signature Baja-style Coastal Mexican Cuisine – it’s a natural next step in the evolution of our menu.”

JUST Eggs Coming to Kroger

JUST, is bringing its plant-based JUST Egg to 2,100 Kroger-owned stores around the country. In the coming weeks, shoppers will be able to find JUST Egg in the egg aisle as Kroger, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, QFC, Fry’s and others. It is already available at Kroger-owned Harris Teeter and Roundy’s banners, including Mariano’s, Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market.

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JUST Egg’s debut at Kroger comes ahead of Better Breakfast Month, observed annually in September and as a growning number of people are seeking out plant-based products and healthier, protein-rich low sugar breakfast options. In consumer studies, 77 percent of those choosing JUST Egg are meat-eaters; 21 percent do not eat animal products; and 57 percent plan to eat more plant-based proteins in the next year.

“We believe a just food system starts with breakfast and our partnership with the Kroger family of stores, the largest grocery store chain in the United States, makes JUST Egg accessible to countless consumers in communities around the country,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of JUST. “This milestone is a major step toward building a smarter, healthier and more sustainable way of eating.”

Crafted by Michelin-starred chefs, JUST Egg is made from the 4,400-year-old mung bean and is free of cholesterol, saturated fat and artificial flavoring. The product’s ingredients require less water and emit fewer carbon emissions than its conventional counterparts.

In a matter of months, JUST has sold the plant-based equivalent of 10 million eggs and JUST Egg jas become a top-seller at grocery stores nationwide. JUST Egg recent out sold 95 percent of eff SKUs at a top three retailer’s top-selling store – one of the few known examples of a plant-based product outselling an animal-based product in national distribution.

In the Natural Channel, JUST Egg has captured 40 percent of the refrigerated liquid egg market and reversed the category decline. It is also the #1 selling refrigerated liquid egg in the Natural Channel, accounting to SPINS, the leading provider of data and insights for the natural, organic and specialty products industry.

JUST Egg has won praise from notable chefs and culinarians and was among Fast Company’s “World Changing Ideas,” Popular Science’s “100 Great-est Innovations of 2018” and TIME’s “10 Smartest Sustainable Products of the Year.” The product is available at retailers nationwide and through major food service operators.

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