(CBS News) – Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods made plant-based burgers cool. Now, the rival California startups hope to work the same magic with plant-based chicken.
Beyond Meat said Monday that its new chicken tenders, which have already had limited test runs at KFC and Panda Express, will go on sale in U.S. groceries in October. Walmart, Jewel-Osco and Harris Teeter stores will be among the first to offer them.
Meanwhile, Impossible Foods began selling its new chicken nuggets this month at Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and other groceries. Impossible says the nuggets will be in 10,000 stores by later this year.
“We’re launching a product that is delicious, more nutritious for you, lower saturated fat, fewer calories, and has far less impact on the environment,” said Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside.
Beyond and Impossible made their name with plant-based burgers that closely imitate meat. Beyond burgers were the first to be sold in groceries next to conventional meat in 2016; Impossible burgers joined them in the meat aisle a few years later.
But this time, Beyond and Impossible will be stacked in freezers already bursting with plant-based chicken options. More than 50 brands of plant-based nuggets, tenders and cutlets are already on sale in U.S. stores, according to the Good Food Institute, which tracks plant-based brands. Fifteen percent of those were new to the U.S. market in 2020, like Nuggs, from New York startup Simulate, and California’s Daring Foods. Others, including Morningstar Farms, have been making plant-based meat for decades.
They’re all trying to grow share in the plant-based meat market, which is still dwarfed by the conventional meat market but is growing fast.
“One of the things we’re really excited about in this product is that we’re using fava beans as the core protein source,” said Beyond’s president, Ethan Brown. “And what is exciting about that is that we’re trying to introduce the consumer a diverse bench of proteins that we can pull from.”
Globally, retail sales of meat substitutes are expected to grow 2% to 4.6 million metric tons between 2021 and 2022, according to Euromonitor. Processed animal meat sales are expected to stay flat in the same period, at 18.9 million metric tons.
Tom Rees, an industry manager for Euromonitor who follows plant-based meat, said plant-based meat sales were already growing before the coronavirus pandemic as more brands appeared on the market. But the pandemic gave plant-based meat a boost.
Rees said news reports connecting the virus to meat consumption, as well as coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing plants, led some consumers to add plant-based meat to their shopping carts for the first time.
“In terms of the number of brands and the number of companies, we are still very much in that fighting out phase for a slice of the pie,” Rees said. “The opportunity is huge there.”
Breaded nuggets aren’t exactly a health food, but plant-based nuggets compare favorably to regular chicken nuggets on most measures. One serving of Impossible nuggets contains 10 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, 320 milligrams of sodium and 200 calories.
A similar size serving of Pilgrim’s chicken nuggets contains the same amount of protein but 14 grams of fat, 460 milligrams of sodium and 220 calories.