- Impossible Foods is planning to launch a plant-based chicken nugget in the fall, and will be introducing it to potential customers at a trade show this week, Bloomberg reported.
- The nuggets, which are soy-based and use sunflower oil, will first launch in restaurants and then roll out to grocery stores, the company confirmed in an email to Food Dive. They do not use any of Impossible Foods' plant-based heme — the company's ingredient that replicates the meaty taste of beef and pork.
- This will be the latest high-profile launch in the plant-based chicken space. Earlier this month, Beyond Meat launched new plant-based chicken tenders at a handful of restaurants and foodservice outlets nationwide. Other chicken alternatives are undergoing big revamps and relaunches, including Kellogg's MorningStar Farms Incogmeato brand and a new QSR push for Monde Nissin's Quorn.
Impossible Foods, known for its plain-spoken brashness and outspoken CEO's plans to sideline the traditional meat industry by 2035, has had a lot to say about its expansion plans and new products. But this is the first time it has mentioned poultry. In press releases, it's teased products including steak. And the company showed off a milk prototype at a virtual press conference last year.
But, as plant-based chicken's popularity and prevalence grows, Impossible is the latest plant-based company to chicken out. According to SPINS statistics, plant-based chicken is growing at a rate of 18% — lower than the average for the whole plant-based meat category, but more than four times higher than chicken from animals, which has grown at a rate of 4%.
Why hasn't Impossible tipped its hand to its work on plant-based chicken? Impossible Foods' President Dennis Woodside told Bloomberg that the company has been busy with other things, like its massive retail expansion during the pandemic. "We’ve been working on chicken for some time," he told the news wire.
It makes sense that plant-based and meat alternative companies are targeting chicken. It is the most widely consumed meat in the United States, with the average U.S. consumer eating 97.6 pounds of the poultry in 2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics cited by the National Chicken Council. And chicken production has a detrimental impact on the environment, contributing to water pollution, adding to emissions and massive consumption of crops for feed.
But it's interesting timing, as so many new options are hitting the market at the same time. Beyond Chicken Tenders launched to positive reviews earlier this month, and Impossible may be trying to take the spotlight off of its rival. However, the long-awaited revamp of Beyond Meat's chicken — which was actually the company's first product and was quietly taken off the market — is only available at a handful of foodservice locations at the moment. If Impossible's launch ends up being on a wider scale, it could help fill in white space in the plant-based chicken arena.
However, Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown has said before that its major competitor is not Beyond Meat — or any other meat alternative company. The company exists to displace the animal meat industry, he's said, and other companies are doing the same type of work.
The chicken launch is just the next step on what's shaping up to be another huge year for Impossible Foods. In 2020, it launched a plant-based pork product that's currently only available in foodservice, and it accelerated plans to expand its retail footprint. This year, it's already cut grocery store prices of its plant-based ground beef and burgers by 20% — moving its prices closer to being equivalent with animal-derived meat — and received a CN label for its Impossible Burgers and Sausage, making it easier for its products to be served in public school cafeterias.
There may be more than just chicken nuggets on the calendar for Impossible Foods. The private company has long been rumored to be seeking an initial public offering. Reuters reported in April that the company was preparing to go public with a listing that could value the company at $10 billion or more. Considering that Impossible Foods has raised $1.6 billion over the years — with nearly half of that coming in 2020 — it's apparent that many big-time funders believe in the plant-based powerhouse. It will be interesting to see how the chicken nugget launch continues to alter that dynamic.