Are restaurants moving into alternative meats?

Be it health, diet, environmental or ethical concerns, consumers’ appetite for plant-based meat is getting bigger than ever. In yet another telling sign that it’s catching on in the mass market, fast-food giant KFC is working on a faux-chicken alternative that it hopes to test with customers later this year.

To be sure, U.S. customers are out of luck in terms of trying it for now. KFC UK and Ireland is the unit that’s working on the recipe as part of its move to reduce calories per serving by 20% by 2025.  Once KFC’s UK and Ireland unit has “perfected” the recipe and if this year’s customer test goes well, KFC, owned by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut parent company Yum! Brands YUM +0%, will unveil a new vegetarian option in that market next year, the statement said.

While KFC has no plans to test or introduce the still-cooking faux-chicken recipe in the U.S. anytime soon, have no doubt that the U.S. is playing a big role in the global plant-based meat movement.

For instance, just look at Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, the two California startups that have both grabbed headlines by coming up with plant-based products that they each claim taste just like meat. Both have won backing from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, among their respective rosters of well-known investors, and they are both expanding in the U.S. and globally. Impossible Foods, for instance, in its own fast-food play, is featured in White Castle’s $2 Impossible Sliders in New York, New Jersey and Chicago as well as on the menus of more upscale restaurants including Bareburger and Umami Burger.

TGI Fridays is among the restaurants that have added “The Beyond Burger” to their menus. Beyond Meat is also carried at grocery retailers including Kroger, Safeway, Target and, yes, Amazon Fresh, it says on its website.

Industry data has backed up the trend. U.S. case shipment of plant-based protein from foodservice distributors to restaurants jumped 19% from March 2017 t0 March 2018, led by demand for burgers, meatballs and other beef alternatives, market research firm NPD Group said in a study released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in-home consumer consumption has seen demand jump 24% since 2015, NPD said, adding that 60% of U.S. consumers said they want to get more protein in their diets by mixing both meat and plant-based products. In a recent survey, 14% of U.S. consumers said they regularly use plant-based alternatives such as almond milk, tofu and veggie burgers, and 86% of them don’t consider themselves vegan or vegetarian, NPD said.

Indeed, a Mintel study released earlier this year found taste to be the top deciding factor for U.S. adults who eat plant-based proteins, outpacing concerns over diet, animal protection, the environment and even health.

According to market research firm Euromonitor, U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 4.7% each year between 2012 and 2017, outpacing the 1.6% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period. Annual global meat substitutes sales on average rose an even faster 9.3% during the same period, more than three times the average rate of processed meat sales, according to Euromonitor.

The alternative meat market still has a long way to catch up to the conventional processed meat market. Globally, processed meat is a $147.2 billion market, far outpacing the $2.2 billion in packaged meat substitute sales. The gap is narrower in the U.S., where the $29.1 billion processed meat sales compares against $700 million in meat substitutes sales, Euromonitor data shows.

The fervor has eaten into the share of the industry giant MorningStar Farms, owned by cereal giant Kellogg K. While MorningStar Farms remains the No. 1 meat substitute brand in the U.S., its share of the market has fallen. Kellogg isn’t blind to the market change. This year it introduced items including the “Meat Lovers Vegan Burger.” It’s packed with 27 grams of protein, the most of any in its burger line, and is infused with “flame-grilled flavor” to deliver, in its words, “an eating experience that tastes just like meat.”

To be more aggressive with targeting regular consumers, including the growing number of “flexitarians,” MorningStar Farms, which is carried at mass-market retailers including Walmart and Target and used for Burger King’s veggie burger, has also partnered with communal app EatWith to host grilling dining events featuring its products in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles this summer.

Looks like we are expecting more and more food options. Vegan burgers that taste like meat anyone?

Check out my interesting reads: Does Umami exist?

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