KFC’s Meatless Chicken, a Hit in Test Markets, Expands to Southern California

The move follows hugely successful debuts in Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville

KFC is gradually expanding the availability of its popular (but rare) Beyond Fried Chicken. KFC and Beyond
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The rise of chicken-less chicken continues at KFC, with the chain rolling out Beyond Meat’s poultry substitute at more than 50 locations around Southern California, starting Monday.

The move is a follow-up to hugely successful early tests in Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta, where a week’s worth of plant-based nuggets and boneless wings sold out in five hours last summer and drew crowds that wrapped around the block and lit up social media.

KFC, the first national fast food brand to serve the faux meat, broadens its experiment with the meatless product in its partner’s backyard. Beyond Meat is based in Los Angeles, and sales of the fried nuggets will span L.A., Orange County and San Diego.

“I’ve said it before: Despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” Andrea Zahumensky, CMO of KFC U.S., said in a statement. “We know the East Coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the West Coast a chance to tell us what they think.”

Plant-based protein has surged in popularity during the coronavirus-related lockdown this year, with retail sales increasing in triple digits for Beyond, its major competitor Impossible Foods and others in the category. Those numbers helped make up for lost sales at shuttered or barely operating restaurants.

National fast food chains stayed open for delivery and drive-thru during quarantine, but industry experts say they’re now looking for innovative ways to grow their business as restrictions lift in some areas and consumers start to return to their pre-pandemic convenience food habits.

Faux meat products have fairly broad appeal, drawing in flexitarians, millennials and Gen Z specifically, and the products are now readily available at traditional burger joints, Mexican and pizza chains, mom-and-pop diners and high-end eateries.

While 2019 was deemed the year of the meatless burger—a sizzling menu item at Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Denny’s and White Castle, among others—this year has been a showcase for fake pork, sausage and chicken. California-based El Pollo Loco recently reformulated its chicken-less chicken, introduced in February, to be certified vegan at its 485 locations in six states.

Impossible, while significantly growing its supermarket footprint for its flagship beef substitute, recently announced deals with Starbucks and Yelp’s top 30 indie diners for faux sausage breakfast sandwiches.

Beyond, a grocery staple from its launch, has leaned into its celebrity endorsements in 2020 and focused on retail discounts and larger family-sized packages for stockpiling buyers. The brand, via an ongoing partnership with Dunkin’, also has pushed its plant-based sausage to the forefront.

Beyond’s faux chicken “has a texture that looks and pulls apart like a chicken breast,” the brand said, aiming to draw in meat lovers and plant-based devotees. At KFC, its nuggets will be sold with dipping sauce in six- or 12-piece orders, a la carte, or as part of a combo.

After giving the Atlanta location a major makeover with bright green accents and a giant billboard last August, spurring customers to start lining up at 8 a.m., KFC plans a lower-key splash in Southern California. There will be window posters and other on-site marketing at the 50-plus restaurants, but little other advertising.

@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.