• Home
  • >
  • Plant-Based
  • Chicken Nugget Sales are Soaring. Can Plant-Based Varieties Take Flight? 

Chicken Nugget Sales are Soaring. Can Plant-Based Varieties Take Flight? 

Frozen chicken continues to deliver versatility and value, and convenient snackable varieties like nuggets are no exception. While this demand provides a significant runway for alternative varieties to regain momentum, sales remain grounded by higher prices.

Per Circana, dollar sales for frozen processed chicken reached $5.1 billion in the 52-weeks ending March 24 with volume sales up 7.5%. Within the subcategory, nuggets are the sales leader, followed by strips.

Comparatively, the alt-nugget category is under significant pressure, with an average price-per-volume nearly double that of traditional varieties.

“A lot of families are still very budget conscious, and we have not yet seen prices come down in the plant-based nuggets at the same pace as conventional products,” Jennifer Bartashus of Bloomberg Intelligence told The Food Institute.

“Many of the plant-based producers do not have the same scale as large protein companies and it is harder for them to absorb costs to be able to lower prices for retailers.”

Progressing Toward Price Parity

To Christie Lagally, founder and CEO of plant-based chicken producer Rebellyous Foods, the sales volume decline in the retail channel reflects “a dynamic and evolving market landscape, underscoring the challenges inherent in pioneering a new frontier of food production.”

Lagally founded Rebellyous to make plant-based meat faster, better, and cheaper than anything else in the market.

“When done right, price parity and high quality go hand-in-hand,” Legally told The Food Institute. “Rebellyous’ novel production system makes this possible by building equipment that operates ideally for the production of plant-based chicken.”

Until that parity is realized, Bartashus points to lower gaps in pricing as a short-term goal for plant-based producers. “This can help bring at least some customers who see the current price gap as too big back into the category,” she said.

Long-term Outlook for Alt-Nuggets is Positive

The recent wave of innovation surrounding texture and flavor can only benefit plant-based—and its nuggets—in the long term.

“Many of the ingredient companies are focused on collaborative innovation with packaged good companies,” said Bartashus. “Over the next few years, we may see a leap in innovation spurred by AI, which can help speed up development times.”

Along with expanding into new sectors such as hospitality and healthcare, Rebellyous is exploring private-label opportunities to reach even more consumers.

“Our success in schools, with products available to over 3 million students nationwide, demonstrates the widespread appeal of our plant-based chicken among diverse demographics,” said Legally.

Thinking Outside the Box

Non-traditional initiatives that reward product purchases with more immediate benefits could also improve consumer adoption and drive stronger sales.

Bartashus points to inspiration outside the food space, like Subaru donating funds to the purchaser’s charity of choice when they buy a car or how Target Redcard holders earn votes to direct donations to local causes.

“Imagine a campaign that was something like ‘eat a chikn, save a chicken’ where a small percentage of sales went to an animal refuge/shelter. Or food for thought, like a ‘Nuggets to live by’ campaign with a QR code to an interesting or inspiring brand story,’ she concluded. “It’s brand building and doing good all at once.”