The once-humble plant-based burger has gone mainstream. Restaurant chains have replaced the veggie burgers of yesteryear with a next-level product — a meaty burger that sizzles from pink to brown like the real thing, but it’s made from healthier, more sustainable plant-based ingredients. From neighborhood restaurants to international chains, the plant-based burger has gone mainstream. Up next: plant-based chicken.
The new-and-improved vegan burger’s success wasn’t overnight. In July 2016, famed restaurateur David Chang added the heme-infused Impossible Burger to the menu of his NYC bistro, Momofuku Nishi. Customers lined up out the door for it.
At the time, Impossible Foods sold its wheat-based meat for about the price of organic beef, but CEO Patrick Brown said that he hoped to bring the price down to mass-market levels. The Impossible Burger made its way through regional fast-casual chains and by summer 2019, it made it to the big time: Burger King. At the same time, other next-generation plant-based products from tech-driven brands like Beyond Meat and JUST made their mark.
From the beginning, these brands have had ambitious plans to transform the food system by appealing to carnivorous consumers, not vegans and vegetarians. To do that, you need to put the product where the meat-eaters go — not in the vegetable aisle. Plant-based burgers are no longer poised to fade into obscurity. They’re only going to get better.
Which leads us to the opportunity to raise the bar with plant-based chicken and why I believe it’s the next big thing.
Chicken is expected to become the world’s most-consumed meat, driven by staggering losses in the Chinese pork industry at the hands of African swine fever. Now, farmers are on high alert due to a new, deadly strain of avian flu. Outbreaks have hit Taiwan, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic over the past year.
Historically, avian flu is deadly to birds, not to humans. But looking ahead, scientists have acknowledged that the next pandemic could come from animal agriculture — all it takes is for two strains to combine into a new, deadly disease that can infect humans. Animal agriculture continues to be a ticking time bomb and the coronavirus pandemic is starting to wake people up to that.
Plant-based chicken is undoubtedly the next big product category that appeals to meat-eaters and herbivores alike. We’ve already seen proof of that. Mexican fast-food chain El Pollo Loco launched plant-based chicken at all 485 locations earlier this year. And bigger chains will follow.
Fried chicken giant KFC trialed Beyond Meat-made plant-based tenders in Atlanta in the summer of 2019 and sold out in a matter of hours. They captured consumer attention again when they launched a new, expanded trial in over 70 locations with a new, improved plant-based meat that mimics the musculature of real chicken. The UK already has the popular KFC “Imposter” Vegan Burger on the menu.
Investors are also taking interest in emerging brands that aim to launch plant-based poultry that’s more realistic than its predecessors. LIVEKINDLY raised $200 million to develop vegan chicken and we are dedicated to accelerating the growth of the brands within our portfolio — starting with South Africa’s Fry Family Foods and Germany-based LikeMeat.
Among us are many other mission-aligned companies such as meat-free chicken nugget maker Rebellyous Foods who recently raised $6 million, which will be used to make its product better and more accessible to the masses. The aptly-named vegan chicken nugget startup NUGGS attracted a $7 million investment from potato giant McCain Foods earlier this year. And plant-based meat and frozen meal brand Alpha Foods raised $28 million to expand earlier this year.
Industry veterans have realized that food technology is bringing us closer to something that has widespread appeal to consumers. It’s only a matter of time before plant-based chicken makes the animal version obsolete by 2040.