Jack in the Box Debuts Its First Faux Meat Sandwich, the ‘Unchicken’

Challenger brand follows competitors like KFC, El Pollo Loco in the battle for flexitarians

Jack in the Box is the latest fast food chain to push into faux meat with its plant-based, "Unchicken" burger. Jack in the Box
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

San Diego-based restaurant chain Jack in the Box has bypassed fake burgers, one of the hottest trends in fast food in the past few years, and headed straight to imitation chicken for the first plant-based-alternative item on its menu.

Jack’s Unchicken sandwich, available in regular and spicy versions, debuted in two regions this week—one each in California and Nevada—taking a page from competitors that have tested meat substitutes before rolling out the products in wider distribution once they hit with consumers.

Jack in the Box, where the offerings range from tacos and breakfast burritos to late-night munchie meals and shakes, wades into the fake chicken category already occupied by competitors including KFC and El Pollo Loco. Each chain has put its individual twist on chicken substitutes, with KFC offering Beyond Meat’s product and El Pollo Loco developing its own recipe.

Jack in the Box is targeting millennials and Gen Z flexitarians with the new sandwich and has sourced its chickenless chicken from Raised and Rooted, a nascent and fast-growing brand from food giant Tyson.

“We wanted to enter the plant-based conversation in a unique way,” Jen Kennedy, Jack in the Box’s chief product and innovation officer, told Adweek. “We’re always trying to think of how we can be innovative while following our own path.”

Kennedy said chicken sandwiches have been big sellers during lockdown, as consumers have searched for comfort food via take-out and delivery. At the same time, “we’re seeing a change in tide with how consumers are approaching their food choices,” expecting more plant-based options, she said.

Chicken-scented face masks

Stores in Monterey County, Calif., and Reno, Nev., began serving the Unchicken sandwiches this week as the chain aims to “make waves as a challenger brand and be the curly fry in how we challenge convention,” Kennedy said.

The brand is giving away free, chicken-scented face masks as a promotional stunt. They’re available to anyone, starting Oct. 23, via the website at jackinthebox.com/chickenfacemask.

Jack in the Box, the 2,200-location chain perhaps best known for its wise-cracking bulbous-headed mascot, hasn’t ruled out meatless burgers. But there are no immediate plans to add those items to the menu.

The nonprofit Good Food Institute had predicted that fake chicken would be part of the “third wave” of plant-based food to go mainstream (after non-dairy milk and burgers). Plant-based chicken has made major strides in 2020, as have meatballs, pork and sausage, with demand for alternative protein accelerating during the coronavirus public health crisis and sales jumping by triple digits at groceries.

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@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.