Impossible Chicken Nuggets launch in restaurants

Dive Brief:

  • Plant-based Impossible Chicken Nuggets officially launch today at some restaurants across the United States. Later this month, the nuggets will make their retail debut at stores including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, ShopRite, Giant and Gelsons. By the end of the year, Impossible Chicken Nuggets are slated to be available at more than 10,000 retail locations.
  • The nuggets are soy-based with sunflower oil, and do not use any of Impossible Foods’ plant-based heme — the company’s signature ingredient that gives meat its distinctive taste. They also do not use titanium dioxide, a controversial and common whitening ingredient. Impossible Chicken Nuggets have 40% less saturated fat and 25% less sodium than animal-based chicken nuggets, the company says.
  • Impossible Chicken Nuggets are the company’s third big meat-mimicking product, and were announced in media reports ahead of a foodservice trade show in July. It’s the latest entrant to the red-hot chicken alternative market, which has recently gained several entrants, including Beyond Meat’s chicken tenders in foodservice, a “tearable” chicken tender from Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms Incogmeato and a QSR push for Monde Nissin’s Quorn

Dive Insight:

Today, Impossible joins the ranks of alternative protein providers who have placed their bets on chicken.

The nuggets are debuting on several top chefs’ menus, including the New York location of David Chang’s Fuku; Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in New York and Miami; Sean Brock’s Joyland in Nashville; and Tal Ronnen’s Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles. But unlike the initial rollout of the Impossible Burger, which started as an item exclusive to high-end casual restaurants, Impossible Chicken Nuggets are widely available through major foodservice distributors. They also will find their way to a few regional chain restaurants in California later on this week, the company says.

Impossible Foods is known for being an unapologetic crusader against the traditional meat industry. Its outspoken founder and CEO Pat Brown has said the company will eliminate the need for animal agriculture by 2035. Impossible has found success as a leader in plant-based burgers, and after more than a year in restaurants, launched its plant-based pork Impossible Sausage in retail stores last month. 

Plant-based chicken is a good next product for Impossible Foods to tackle. According to SPINS statistics, the segment is growing at a rate of 18% — lower than the average for the whole plant-based meat category, but more than four times higher than chicken from animals, which has grown at a rate of 4%. 

Impossible seems confident in the new product’s ability to outperform meat. In a blind taste test among 201 meat-eating consumers in Texas, seven in 10 preferred Impossible Chicken Nuggets to ones made from meat, the company said.

“This launch isn’t really about nuggets. It’s about the historic inflection point we’ve reached,” Brown said in a statement. “For the first time, consumers unquestionably prefer meat made from plants instead of meat from an iconic animal. In the battle for the future of food, this is the first time David has categorically bested Goliath, but it won’t be the last.”

Impossible also touts the product’s sustainability credentials: Its preliminary life cycle assessment of the chicken nuggets determined they use about 49% less land, about 44% less water and generate 36% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than those made from meat.

As Impossible Foods’ prominence in the plant-based space grows — and presumably its profits as well — the company’s investments in R&D and scale are clear in this product launch. While launches of other products were more slow and deliberate, this one is huge and more immediate. Within months, these meat-free chicken nuggets will be readily available to most retail and foodservice consumers coast to coast — a much larger ramp-up than the company’s launches of burgers and sausage.

This is a demonstration of Impossible’s current scale, which it has been building over the years at its own facilities and through its agreement with co-manufacturer OSI Group. It also shows a robust internal team that can create a product that the company can have enough confidence in for a widespread launch. Impossible Foods has recently made personnel a focus, issuing the goal last October of doubling its R&D team with scientists from diverse disciplines within 12 months.

As this product launches, Impossible Foods is cementing its status as a major player in the plant-based meat space. It’s also placed itself in every product market as its closest pure-play plant-based competitor, Beyond Meat. There’s much speculation that Impossible Foods is soon to make an entry into the one place Beyond Meat is that it is not: the stock market. Reuters reported this spring that the plant-based powerhouse is planning an IPO that would value the company at $10 billion or more. Another successful product on the market is likely to raise the stakes and potential investor excitement.

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