KFC is meeting with plant-based 'meat' makers as chains like Burger King and Del Taco jump on the vegan bandwagon
- KFC is meeting with major plant-based "meat" makers to discuss what a vegan version of fried chicken could look like, KFC's US president, Kevin Hochman, told Business Insider.
- Fast-food chains such as Del Taco, Burger King, and Tim Hortons have added vegan meat substitutes to the menu in recent months.
- No major American chicken chains have announced new meat-substitute menu items yet, but Chick-fil-A is also is in the early stages of exploring adding vegan options to the menu.
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As vegan, plant-based "meats" join the menu at chains like Del Taco and Burger King, chicken chains might be next to jump on the meat-substitute bandwagon.
It's a future that Kevin Hochman, the president of KFC's US business, once thought unthinkable. Now, he's not so sure.
"If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said no, to be completely honest with you," Hochman told Business Insider. "Because, we're about fried chicken."
However, if the current buzz around companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat translates into long-term customer demand, then KFC will certainly test a plant-based meat substitute in the US, Hochman said. The chain has already been testing vegetarian "fried chicken" in the UK.
"In the last two weeks I've made several appointments with some of the big guys, just to figure out - what does alternative protein look like in chicken?" Hochman said.
Hochman's logic echoes what Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A's menu, told Business Insider earlier in May. According to Norris, the chain is in the early stages of exploring adding vegan options to the menu.
"We're certainly wanting to broaden our thinking and really start big in that funnel and come down," Norris said. "We think it is certainly beyond just no meat on salads or no meat in a wrap. It might be some kind of alternative protein on a sandwich."
Plant-based "meat" has been sweeping the fast-food industry in recent months.
Chains including TGI Fridays, Carl's Jr., and Red Robin serve either the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger. Del Taco's vegan Beyond Taco is on track to become one of the chain's best-ever new-product launches. Burger King teamed up with Impossible Foods to roll out Impossible Whoppers nationally by the end of 2019.
"We think this is a new category that we can build on for the long haul," Restaurant Brands International CEO José Cil told Business Insider."We think that plant-based burgers and other products will continue to be part of our business for the long term."
The meat-substitute makers have been cashing in as demand swells. Impossible Foods announced a $300 million series E funding round led by Temasek and Horizon Ventures in mid-May. The news followed Beyond Meat's explosive public debut earlier in May, when shares soared 163% on its first day of trading.
Now, this explosive success might mean KFC starts dabbling in Kentucky Faux Chicken.
"Never say never. I would have said never six months ago," Hochman said. "Now, I've really re-thought that. We're going to learn more about that. ... It still feels a little early, but we're going to learn about it."
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