U.K. meat alternative company Quorn is opening a new culinary development center in Dallas. The kitchen will test culinary equipment and coating on mycoprotein — the fermented alternative protein source used in the company's products — in a variety of simulated restaurant environments.
The research and development center also will house a product development lab with the aim of delivering innovative extensions to Quorn's portfolio and getting them to market more quickly. While the new facility is equipped to test and innovate on all Quorn products, the company will focus on chicken.
Quorn’s parent company Monde Nissin had its $1 billion initial public offering on the Philippine Stock Exchange in June. Since then, the company said it will spend nearly 16 billion pesos ($335 million) to expand Quorn’s presence in the U.S. at fast-food restaurant chains.
Quorn is looking to increase its presence in the U.S. market with chicken. One of the pioneers in the meat alternative space, Quorn has resided in the shadow of newer startups such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in recent years. However, its new culinary center may become the gateway to allow the legacy alternative protein brand to stake a “claim on the meat-free chicken category.”
Since 2002, Quorn has sold its products in the U.S. But Bloomberg reported nearly 90% of Quorn’s 2020 sales were in the U.K. and Europe. U.S. consumers are hungry for more meat alternatives, and the pandemic only accelerated this demand. Plant-based food sales increased 27% last year in the U.S. to $7 billion, according to SPINS data released by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association. Given the consumer appetite for meat alternatives, now might be the right time to undertake a massive expansion of Quorn.
To jumpstart its expansion efforts, Quorn has chosen chicken.
"Our ambition is to become the king of alternative chicken globally," Marco Bertacca, Quorn's CEO, said in the release announcing this facility. "With new leadership, our state-of-the-art culinary center and new innovations accelerated by this IPO, we believe we're well-positioned to do just that."
In the crowded space of meat alternatives, chicken presents a large opportunity. Chicken protein has increased in popularity among consumers, and food makers are working on bringing more to supermarket shelves where sausages and hamburger alternatives are abundant.
Similarly, high-profile chicken alternative sandwich launches in U.S. fast-food restaurants have driven huge sales increases for restaurants and have even sold out in a matter of hours, underscoring the hunger for chicken substitutes. Similar success has occurred in the U.K. involving Quorn chicken.
By dedicating a culinary center to exploring options for faux chicken products, Quorn is setting itself up to execute its plan of getting its products on U.S. fast-food restaurant menus. Since its new facilities also are equipped to test its products in a fine-dining setting, it is not a stretch to imagine the company working toward a fermented chicken alternative suitable for higher-end dishes.
While the breadth of testing and development of this new facility is an indication of Quorn’s seriousness in making itself a household name in the U.S., a lot is riding on the appeal of the products and the speed at which they roll out.
Other major manufacturers such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Tyson Foods, all of which have or are expected to soon have a presence in alternative chicken, are inaugurating innovation centers in an effort to increase the complexity and realistic nature of the meat alternatives on the market. Chicken products are seemingly at the forefront of this watershed of innovation.
The culinary development center will be led by President Judd Zusel, who came from the incubation business unit of Bacardi Global Brands, and executive chef Stephen A. Kalil who has experience working with major CPG manufacturers, including PepsiCo and Frito Lay.
By hiring Zusel and Kalil, Quorn may be giving itself an edge. Zusel also has ample experience working in the innovation arms of large CPG manufacturers, whereas Kalil straddles the foodservice and CPG sectors in the way that Quorn is looking to replicate. With the growth of plant-based foods showing no signs of slowing, companies like Quorn have little choice but to invest big money and innovate to remain competitive amid a push from deeper-pocketed competitors.