KFC announced a partnership with Beyond Meat to launch a plant-based chicken option being piloted at a location in Atlanta beginning this week. Numerous beef-based fast food brands, such as Del Taco and Burger King, have successfully launched plant-based alternatives this year with great success. KFC would be the first major brand to create a chicken alternative setting the stage for competitors to follow suit.
KFC sales growth has slowed in the United States in recent years. KFC reported negligible growth in 2018 and only two percent thus far in 2019, according to company financials. In contrast, overall growth in U.S. limited-service chicken has seen substantial growth with chicken chains as a whole growing almost six percent in 2018— a rate forecasted to be even higher in 2019. This growth stems from high growth levels for competitors like the country sales leader Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A posted double-digit growth year over year since 2014, citing strategic franchise partnerships and superior customer service as growth drivers.
In recent years, KFC has employed several noteworthy marketing campaigns to drive growth in the U.S. including limited-time offers like Hot Cheeto’s breaded chicken and celebrities dressed as Colonel Sanders.
The introduction of the plant-based chicken plays into a broader trend as consumer demand rises and the lab-grown meat industry, through brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, continues to see record-breaking growth already in 2019. Though competitor Popeye’s had recent viral launches on social media, this move opens up an entirely new market of vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian, consumers for KFC that have yet to be serviced by any other major chicken brand.
The success of Beyond Chicken for KFC relies on two primary components, price and taste. The company advertises that the plant-based wings will be $6 for 6. This is almost a quarter per piece more than the regular hot wings. Though this will not detour consumers in the beginning, the price gap will have to close if KFC wants to remain competitive once others undoubtedly enter the market in the coming months.
Unlike plant-based burgers, KFC will not be able to rely on added bread, cheese, and condiments to bolster flavour. Success will hinge not only on the company’s famous “11 herbs and spices”, but also on Beyond Meat’s ability to produce a product that mimics chicken’s texture better than the store-bought alternatives.