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NUGGETS OF WISDOM: Why chicken is taking over plant-based meat

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At an average grocery store, consumers can find nuggets, tenders, patties, non-breaded strips and prepared products containing plant-based chicken shreds or chunks as an ingredient.

MEGAN POINSKI: In 2021, the poultry battle royale is over plant-based chicken. The two leading plant-based meat companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, both said this month that they are launching new chicken products. Beyond Chicken Tenders were launched at about 400 restaurants nationwide on July 8. And the next week, Impossible Foods told Bloomberg it would be debuting chicken nuggets this fall.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are two of the latest entrants to a category that has been showing enormous growth in recent years — and is sure to continue to climb. According to statistics from market analysis provider SPINS, plant-based chicken is growing at a rate of 18%. This is 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%.

So far this year, there have been several high-profile plant-based chicken launches, as well as huge funding rounds for startups and plans for international manufacturers to expand to the U.S. This makes sense when looking at the numbers. Jeff Crumpton, a SPINS retail business consultant, said chicken analogs are the second most consumed plant-based meat product category today, after beef-like burgers.

With chicken making up 45% of meat consumed, plant-based options are an exciting alternative to consumers, said Emma Ignaszewski, corporate engagement project manager for The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes alternative proteins. The large dollar and volume opportunities make it an exciting space for manufacturers. “Having a tasty, affordable plant-based chicken option has the potential to deeply transform our food system,” she said…

Poultry — especially chicken — has slowly taken over as U.S. consumers’ preferred meat product… Through the years, chicken edged out beef and pork because it started being considered a healthier meat, and mass production drove consumer prices down while keeping a high rate of availability. Crumpton said this type of understanding has influenced consumer choices. During the pandemic, some consumers started to consider plant-based meat as an even healthier alternative. “We see that continue to kind of migrate from something like a chicken, turkey sausage into a plant-based chicken sausage,” he said…

Plant-based chicken is a diverse category… At an average grocery store, consumers can find nuggets, tenders, patties, non-breaded strips and prepared products containing plant-based chicken shreds or chunks as an ingredient. Some of these products are in kid-friendly shapes, like nuggets that look like cartoon characters. Some have a striated texture that is more like cuts of meat. Some are made of pea protein, while others are mainly soy or fava bean…

As the plant-based chicken market gets more crowded, companies are working to differentiate themselves. Some are making price parity with conventional chicken their priority, said The Good Food Institute’s [GFI] Ignaszewski. Others are playing up the environmental and social benefits of plant-based chicken. According to a life-cycle assessment her group commissioned on alternative proteins, which included plant-based chicken, it produces 86% less greenhouse gas, uses 96% less water, and takes up 97% less land when compared to traditional chicken…

GFI’s Ignaszewski said technology will do more to advance this segment to the point where it’s commanding much more shelf space and a larger share of consumer spending in the meat department. Since plant-based meat is made out of ingredients, she said, there can be much more versatility in terms of health and function than conventional meat…

Several plant-based chicken makers said their ultimate goal is for less animal-based chicken on store shelves and restaurant menus. They aren’t focused on what other plant-based companies are doing. Instead, they want to make the best products for consumers, period.

When Simulate’s Sam Terris thinks of the future for plant-based meat, he recalls a more-than-century-old news article about how “Edison’s gas light substitute” — better known now as an incandescent light bulb — was catching on. Calling this then-novel product by the name of what it was replacing quickly became obsolete. To modern ears, it even sounds a bit preposterous. Terris thinks the entire meat section will go that way in the future.

“We make true animal-based meats obsolete, and the only things that are in there are simulations,” Terris said. “We might still refer to it as ‘meat’ because that’s a term that we’re used to, but I certainly hope that in five years, we see fewer animal-based products globally.” SOURCE…

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