Beyond Meat is telling customers it plans to launch a chicken alternative this summer, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the company's plans.
The plant-based manufacturer has a long history with faux chicken, having first produced strips in 2012 before moving into plant-based beef. Beyond Meat pulled its frozen chicken-strips from shelves in 2019.
Beyond Meat has cemented itself as one of the undisputed leaders in the plant-based sector, along with fellow upstart Impossible Foods. While beef is popular among manufacturers, more plant-based companies are expanding their reach into chicken and other meats.
Nearly a decade ago, Beyond Meat entered the food space as a maker of plant-based chicken. Since then, the California company has become known for its dominance in beef and more recently sausages. Beyond Meat pulled its earlier chicken strips because, the company said, they "weren't delivering the same plant-based meat experience as some of our more popular products, like the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage."
But as a public company looking for growth, expanding beyond beef is a logical move given chicken's popularity around the world.
According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data cited by the USDA, poultry is second only to pork as the most widely eaten meat in the world. With a third of the globe eating chicken, companies that want to further cement their dominance in the plant-based space have little choice but to enter the category.
Americans are forecast to consume an average of 98 pounds of chicken per capita this year, the National Chicken Council estimates, equating to more than 31 billion pounds. Data from the industry group shows chicken consumption has been gradually rising for decades, more than doubling from 40 pounds in 1970.
It's a big reason why players in the plant-based meat space are developing their own chicken alternative. Even grabbing a small slice of the market could lead to millions of dollars in sales.
Nestlé's Sweet Earth launched its first Mindful Chik'n line in 2019, the same year its debuted its faux beef options in Awesome Burger and Awesome Grounds. Meat processing giant Tyson Foods has plant-based chicken nuggets under its Raised & Rooted brand. Conagra's plant-based protein line Gardein has its own chicken offerings, and the food giant has incorporated it into its other brands like Birds Eye. And Kellogg's Incogmeato By MorningStar Farms brand recently debuted Chik'n Tenders that it says have the same texture as real chicken.
Despite being an early player in plant-based chicken, Beyond Meat slowly faded away and now appears to be making a big comeback. It no doubt learned from its earlier failure in developing its latest product for the space. In recent years, Beyond Meat tried out plant-based chicken at KFC, with an early test at an Atlanta store selling out in less than five hours in 2019.
Bloomberg noted in an interview with Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown in January 2020 that the KFC test featured different versions of breaded nuggets, including one made of a ground "meat" and later, a product that more closely duplicated a "muscle-like structure." The real-world experience likely gave the company confidence to move ahead with a broader retail roll out this year.
Beyond Meat recently said it will be debuting in May a newer Beyond Burger, designed to taste meatier and juicier with 35% less fat and fewer calories than 80/20 ground beef. Plant-based meat companies are routinely working behind the scenes to tweak their products to give them a taste, texture and appearance as close to the animal alternative as possible. Beyond Meat is doing the same thing with its chicken line, but realized years ago it needed to do a lot of work and was better off doing much of it out of the public eye.
Beyond Meat has achieved success with its beef offering, and can use the notoriety and brand name to promote and attract consumers to its chicken. If it can succeed here too, the company will have solidified its reputation in plant-based foods, increasing the likelihood that consumers who are flocking to the category will think of Beyond Meat when they do.