Impossible Foods Inc. plans to debut a plant-based chicken nugget this fall, the latest imitation meat maker to jump into an already crowded market.
The offering will be unveiled to potential customers at a trade show next week, the company announced, and uses textured soy protein and sunflower oil to replicate the bite and fatty mouthfeel of nuggets. Notably, it doesn’t include heme, the ingredient that gave its burgers and sausages that fake meatiness, but also kept them from being sold in Europe and China because it’s genetically modified.
Impossible, along with rival Beyond Meat Inc., revolutionized the “veggie burger” category with their beef-like burgers that came closer to the real thing than other options. They inspired a whole new category of copycats, but despite that first-mover advantage have been late to offer chicken. Beyond began selling its “chicken tender” last week.
“We’ve been busy with other things,” said Impossible President Dennis Woodside, explaining that the company has been focused on expanding its retail offerings. “We’ve been working on chicken for some time.”
Since debuting its eponymous burger at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, Impossible has increased its customer base to national chains like Burger King, about 20,000 U.S. supermarkets and five international markets. Its faux sausage, launched in 2020, is now available in a Starbucks breakfast sandwich. The company has raised $1.5 billion, according to PitchBook. It’s now valued at about $10 billion and is planning to go public in the coming months, Reuters reported in April. Impossible declined to comment on that report.
The new Impossible and Beyond offerings face stiff competition from alt-chicken products made by established manufacturers, such as Maple Leaf Foods Inc.’s Lightlife and Conagra Brands Inc.’s Gardein, as well as newer entrants Daring Foods Inc. and Livekindly Collective. But there could still be plenty of room with Americans spending $110 billion on chicken last year, by far the most of any meat.
In a similar distribution strategy to its faux burger, the nugget will launch with restaurants first, but is slated to go to retailers shortly thereafter. Restaurants are already taking advantage of the available options. Plant-based chicken substitutes shipped to U.S. commercial restaurants have increased 15% by volume from last year, according to NPD Group’s SupplyTrack.
A new plant-based nugget from a big name company could add fuel to the recent chicken sandwich wars, said Joseph Szala, founder and managing director of Vigor, a restaurant marketing firm.
“We’re about to see the same competitive antics happen with chicken nuggets,” Szala said. “A plant-based alternative could up the ante.”
When it comes to heme, the molecule Impossible has called its “magic” ingredient, the company realized that it didn’t need to use it because chicken nuggets are a white meat product, and in real chickens most of the heme is in the dark parts.
“In prototypes, we did include a small amount of heme and tested without,” said Laura Kliman, Impossible’s senior flavor scientist. “We found in a nugget format, which is breaded and has some seasoning, it really wasn’t that necessary.”