The plant-based trend has been taking over the food industry, even making the rounds in fast food chains, with the likes of Burger King and McDonald’s all releasing meatless items. KFC is no exception. But while skeptics believe it’s just the latest fad to entice easily swayed millennials and Gen Z, chief of KFC’s US arm doesn’t think so. Kevin Hochman thinks it’s here to stay.
Speaking to Fortune and Bloomberg in a recent interview, Hochman, who leads KFC US as president and chief concept officer, made his views clear that the company is betting big on plant-based.
‘We’re pretty bullish’ on plant-based
He admits that the younger generation “tend to be the ones that want to eat more plant-based”, given their increasingly health and environmentally-conscious views. A recent poll found that an overwhelming majority of young people are now “very worried” about climate change, while another revealed that this demographic are more willing to spend on plant-based alternatives as part of their sustainable lifestyle.
But unlike those who think that it’s just a short-term trend, Hochman says “we envision this trend to continue to grow.”
“We’re pretty bullish on that,” he continues. “We don’t think that plant-based is a fad, we think that’s something that’s going to continue to grow over time.”
That’s the reason why KFC says it’s now striving to become a “restaurant of the future” by investing heavily in expanding its vegan offerings. It has launched vegan chicken nuggets in Hong Kong, mainland China, Canada, and the US, and even turned one KFC branch in the Netherlands entirely meat-free for a week.
Most recently, KFC’s parent company Yum! Brands signed a deal with food tech giant Beyond Meat, to co-create new plant-based protein menu items exclusive to KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell over the next few years. Hochman, also the interim president of Pizza Hut US, is now overseeing the rollout of Beyond’s vegan pepperoni pizzas across 70 outlets in the country.
The rise of the flexitarian
A main part of why KFC’s chief thinks that plant-based is here to stay is because it’s now reaching mainstream consumers. It isn’t a niche market, he explains, thanks to the rise of “flexitarians”, an increasingly popular part-time vegan diet that as many as 42% of consumers globally are now adopting.
“A lot of people think plant-based is about vegan or vegetarian. Over 90% of people who buy Beyond in the grocery store are also eating animal proteins,” he shared. “I eat plant-based hamburgers at home now because I think they’re as good as the regular burger.”
As for where KFC is going next, Hochman revealed that works are underway to develop vegan alternatives that truly match the taste, texture and mouthfeel that consumers love about real chicken meat.
“What we’re trying to replicate is a tenderloin where you actually have the muscle fibers. The texture is a bit more pleasing than what we’d call a chewed-and-glued. It’s a different technology,” he says. “A lot of that is about how the chicken cuts and tears and the mouthfeel.”
“Our plan is to try to replicate that Kentucky Fried Chicken as close as we can, obviously without using the animal.”
All images courtesy of KFC / Yum! Brands.