Chicken Wars with a Plant-Based Twist

burger on white and green plate

Although plant-based beef is usually in the spotlight, meatless chicken is now taking center stage.

Jack in the Box unveiled the Unchicken Sandwich, its first plant-based offering, reported Forbes (Oct. 15). It will be tested in the Reno, NV, and Monterey, CA, markets from Oct. 15 until Dec. 12—or while supplies last.

Available in classic or spicy, the sandwich includes a split-top bun, mayo, lettuce, and tomato in addition to the plant-based chicken. Unchicken Sandwich Combos will be priced at $6.99 each, which is in line with the pricing of other sandwiches on the menu.

The substitute chicken filet is sourced from Raised & Rooted, an alternative protein product line launched by Tyson Foods in 2019. It is made from pea protein isolate and Jack’s traditional crispy breading.

The launch marks the second time a major U.S. fast-food chain has experimented with a chicken alternative. In 2019, KFC partnered with Beyond Meat—the first foray into the category. Results from the initial Beyond Fried Chicken test in August were strong enough to expand the product into new markets just months after.

“Since there has been a recent explosion of popularity in the chicken category, we wanted to introduce a plant-based option in this space rather than the predictable meatless burger patty,” said Jen Kennedy, SVP, chief product and innovation officer, at Jack in the Box. “Chicken is definitely having its moment.”

In the UK, chicken chain Nando’s revealed it was launching their first ever plant-based meat alternative, reported Daily Mail (Oct. 12).

The Great Imitator, also made from pea protein, launched in restaurants across the UK and is designed to taste like the restaurant’s popular PERi-PERi chicken breast fillet. It will be served as four strips that are grilled to order and sit on the menu as part of the burgers, pittas, and wraps category. As they would with their usual Nando’s order, customers will be able to choose their desired level of spice on the PERi-ometer.

Although the recipe is completely plant-based, the dish is aimed at flexitarians rather than vegans or vegetarians as it is cooked on the same grill as chicken dishes—meaning its not strictly vegan.

“Nando’s can’t guarantee zero risk of cross-contamination, so it’s not calling it vegan, but as all the ingredients in the burger and pitta versions are completely animal-free—right down to the mayo—we say these are an excellent choice for vegans, vegetarians, meat-reducers, and chickens,” said Dawn Carr, Director of Vegan Corporate Projects, PETA.

Meanwhile, plant-based chicken is also having a moment in the for-retail category. Heura, a vegan-friendly alternative to chicken that’s been cooked up by a Barcelona-based startup, has launched its first products in the UK, reported TechCrunch (Oct. 5).

The company is working with local distributors The Vegan Kind and Planet Organic to sell three of its most popular products in the market: 100% vegetable original chicken bites, Mediterranean chicken bites and strips.

The 100% plant-based chicken is made from European soy, olive oil, salt, and spices.

Additionally, The first Latin American foodtech company to develop and produce plant-based meat that “has the same taste, texture and juiciness of animal based meat,” Fazena Futuro launching its new plant-based chicken: Future Chicken, reported Vegconomist (Oct. 14).

Future Chicken was developed using True Texture Technology, which recreates the same fibrous texture similar to that of an actual chicken, along with natural extracts to make sure it has a neutral flavor. The product will also be sold in a 100% sustainable, plant-based packaging.