International fast food giant KFC is slated to roll out plant-based fried chicken in locations across China for the first time this month. The chain’s operating group Yum China partnered with global agribusiness corporation Cargill to create the meat-free chicken substitute, which will be tested in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen for a limited trial period.
Yum China’s fast food chain KFC will begin selling plant-based fried chicken over a limited period between April 28 to 30, the company has announced via its official Weibo account. The trial will launch at three locations in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen with each serving sold for just ¥1.99 (US$0.28).
KFC’s announcement garnered some positive feedback online on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform. Some commented that they believe the plant-based offering will be a healthier alternative to conventional meat.
But the news will no doubt still be controversial given that KFC China has partnered with agribusiness giant Cargill to create the new plant-based chicken dish, with Cargill having faced accusations of a litany of ethical and environmental violations across its operations for years.
What’s clear is that KFC’s move is a bid to hop on the fast-growing plant-based trend in China and wider Asia. It follows growing global interest in China’s plant-based market, which has been targeted by major industry players including the leading Silicon Valley food techs Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Last year, spurred by the pork shortage crisis due to the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak and an increasingly eco- and health-conscious younger generation, Beyond Meat announced that it is planning to begin production in Asia, while Impossible Foods launched two new pork analogues to vye for market share.
The ongoing global coronavirus pandemic has further fuelled complications in China’s food supply chain, with travel bans and export restrictions causing a shortage of imported meat and dairy on Chinese shelves. It has additionally drawn greater attention to the vulnerability and safety concerns of the animal industry itself, with more people now willing to ditch conventional animal products for plant-based versions.
In a recent interview with Green Queen, David Yeung, the founder and CEO of Hong Kong’s plant-based enterprise Green Monday, said that an Ipsos survey commissioned by the group revealed that a quarter of the city’s younger generation are now “very likely” to choose vegan foods due to Covid-19.
He also cited the latest resurgence of Div1 in China’s aquaculture farms, a virus that affects shrimp populations, as an additional blow to food security and safety that will drive greater consumer demand for plant-based alternatives.
Prior to the pandemic, KFC had already begun adding more vegan and vegetarian options on its menus outside of China. In the United Kingdom, KFC added the “Zero Chicken” vegan burger made from a Quorn patty while a Beyond Fried Chicken made using Beyond Meat debuted in the United States. In the Netherlands, a Rotterdam branch of KFC went 100% meat-free for a whole week last month.
Other major food industry players have too found it difficult to ignore the demand for healthier and more sustainable meal options. Recently, the world’s largest pizza chain Pizza Hut revealed that they will be rolling out more vegan cheese and vegan menu options across the United Kingdom, citing increasing consumer demand for plant-based, ethical and eco-friendly food.
Meanwhile, confectionary conglomerate Mondelez said they are developing a vegan version of its most iconic product, the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Another FMCG giant, Nestlé, also unveiled its plan to aggressively pursue the plant-based space across every product category in the food retail sector.
Lead image courtesy of KFC.