Another Vegan Nugget: Creator of Burger King’s Impossible Whopper Joins Premium Plant-Based Chicken Newcomer
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Plant-based newcomer Recreate Foods has appointed Michael Salem, creator of Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, as its president. Previously the curator of Kevin Hart-owned restaurant Hart House‘s menu, he joins a vegan chicken brand that faces stiff competition in an increasingly populated category – and he’s betting on taste and texture.
Founded earlier this year, Arizona-based Recreate Foods’ vegan chicken range – which includes filets, tenders, nuggets and grounds made from pea protein – is crafted by chefs to prioritise high quality.
A premium brand in an overpopulated category
The US plant-based chicken sector is over-congested and highly competitive – there are around 20 brands making vegan nuggets alone. Just last week, Californian alt-nugget startup Nowadays announced it is ceasing operations amid a continued decline in plant-based meat sales in the US.
But Salem believes Recreate Foods’ positioning as a high-end company separates it from the crowd. “What clearly differentiates Recreate from others in the category is it’s simply a delicious chicken-based analogue,” he told trade publication Food Dive. “And we’re not a value-oriented brand, we’re a premium brand.”
He doubled down on this aspect by explaining the producer focuses on flavour and texture – two key components of concern about plant-based meat for consumers. “A lot of these big companies have a ton of resources, they have a lot of passion, they have a ton of exposure and media, but they don’t really necessarily have a great product,” said Salem.
“The ethos that we operate under as a company is that we’re not a science-based company. We’re not in the business of creating formulas. We’re in the business of creating delicious recipes.”
From Burger King to Recreate Foods
Salem was the head of culinary development at Burger King for four years, and found his love for the plant-based category after launching the vegan Impossible Whopper burger exactly four years ago (8 August 2019). He called the unique impact of product launches one of the industry’s main attractions: “Not to trash the product launch of McCafé – it was a great launch – but it didn’t really change the world.”
He added that some brands prioritise virtue over quality: “We start to see companies position themselves as ‘It’s the right thing to do’ or really leaning in on vegans to kind of shame you into doing the right thing.”
However, he was also quoted as saying: “In the plant-based category, a product can be profitable, creative, incremental, and make perfect business sense. But more importantly, and more impactful for me, is it can have a tremendous impact on the pressure that we’re putting on livestock.”
During the launch of Hart House, he had a similar response: “I’ve seen too many animals die. I’ve been too guilty about the food I’ve been serving the community, making people really unhealthy for a long time, and I just don’t think it’s necessary. I think this is really the future of fast food, so that’s why I took the gig. I just thought it was an incredible chance to really make a difference and leave a legacy on food service and an industry that’s been so good to me.”
Whether it’s virtue- or flavour-first, the jury’s out on how a premium player will perform in an oversaturated and sales-hit category, but Salem is up for the challenge.