Impossible Foods is about to launch its plant-based chicken nuggets in the coming months. The news comes on the heels of rival Beyond Meat’s rollout of its new vegan chicken tenders across U.S. restaurants and amid the rising crowd of brands on store shelves selling chicken substitutes.
“Bleeding” plant-based beef maker Impossible Foods is set to enter the vegan chicken space this fall, reported Bloomberg. It’ll be launching a plant-based chicken nugget, which will be debuted at a trade show this week. The Silicon Valley food tech says the product will initially launch in foodservice channels before entering retail.
In the U.S., Impossible’s products are available at around 30,000 restaurants and 20,000 retail locations. Globally, the brand has established a footprint in Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Heme-free plant-based chicken nugget
According to Impossible, the new nuggets won’t contain its controversial GMO heme ingredient. Heme is the component that gives its plant-based beef its famous “bleeding” qualities and iron-rich mouthfeel, and recently won a legal battle upholding the FDA’s decision to certify the GMO ingredient as safe for consumers.
Other ingredients Impossible is using to create its chicken-free nuggets are textured soy protein and sunflower oil.
“In prototypes, we did include a small amount of heme and tested without,” Laura Kliman, senior flavour scientist at Impossible, told Bloomberg. “We found in a nugget format, which is breaded and has some seasoning, it really wasn’t that necessary.”
Impossible added that heme wasn’t necessary because chicken is a white meat product that naturally doesn’t contain a lot of heme. Replicating the texture, taste and mouthfeel of chicken could therefore do without the ingredient.
Vegan chicken wars
The news comes just on the heels of Beyond Meat’s re-entry into the vegan chicken space. Beyond previously offered a chicken analogue, but it was quietly discontinued in favour of its popular Beyond Burger product that shot the startup to fame.
Beyond Chicken Tenders have now launched across 400 restaurants in North America, with a wider rollout planned in the coming months. In line with Beyond’s revamped clean label approach, the product is marketed as a lower-fat, GMO-free and high-protein alternative to real chicken tenders.
Without mentioning its rival, Impossible says that launching a plant-based chicken analogue was always on its to-do list.
“We’ve been busy with other things. [But] we’ve been working on chicken for some time,” said Dennis Woodside, president at Impossible.
Woodside explained that it also made sense for Impossible to launch chicken nuggets, given its recent entry into the K-12 market. The food tech has managed to secure CN Labels, which are authorised by the USDA to guide schools’ child nutrition programs and school lunches.
Long-time alt-chicken players
While Beyond and Impossible are the two best-known food techs vying for a share of the vegan chicken market, they’re entering into a sector with strong competition—including from established food giants.
Some of the staples within the category include Conagra-owned Gardein, which boasts a variety of chicken products from tenders to wings, as well as Maple Leaf Foods’ Lightlife. In China, agribusiness giant Cargill offers vegan chicken nuggets under its PlantEver brand.
Other food techs that have developed plant-based chicken include Spanish startup Heura, newly launched TiNDLE by Singapore-based Next Gen, Simulate, the maker of NUGGs, and Los Angeles’ Daring Foods.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash / Impossible Foods / designed by Green Queen Media.