(Bloomberg) -- Beyond Meat Inc. and KFC are expanding their test of faux chicken nuggets after the success of an initial trial in Atlanta -- this time aiming to offer a product that looks and tastes like it’s made from meat sliced right off a bird.
Starting Feb. 3, Beyond Fried Chicken will be available in about 70 KFC locations in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, the companies said. The test is scheduled to run until Feb. 23 or while supplies last.
The trial marks an advance in Beyond Meat’s technology. While eager Atlanta customers last summer were served a product that was ground, formed, breaded and fried, the new offering represents an upgrade -- a nugget made to replicate a real cut of breast meat. The company’s shares rose more than 3% to $124 on the news, reversing declines in pre-market trading.
“If you look at what we launched with in Atlanta versus what we’re doing today, we all agreed that we need to get that muscle-like structure,” said Ethan Brown, chief executive officer of Beyond Meat, who proceeded to tear open a nugget to show off the interior. “I just can’t stop pulling this apart.”
Since Beyond Meat’s initial public offering last May -- one of the most successful IPOs of the year -- the company has been racking up major fast-food partnerships.
Its burgers are found in all U.S. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, and are being tested in McDonald’s in Canada, while its sausages are available at more than 9,000 Dunkin’ locations. The Atlanta test with KFC sold out in less than five hours.
Beyond Meat, based in El Segundo, California, isn’t alone in its quest to deliver a less-meaty diet. Impossible Foods Inc. has its soy-based burgers in more than 7,000 Burger Kings nationally, as well as White Castles and Red Robins around the country. Major food companies like Nestle SA and Conagra Brands Inc. are making their own plant-based burgers, too.
But the looming question is how long the excitement can last -- with consumers and retailers.
Earlier this month, amid dropping Impossible Whopper sales, Burger King began a two-for-$6 promotion, almost half the earlier suggested price of $5.59 per sandwich. And Tim Hortons in Canada has dropped both the Beyond Burger and Beyond breakfast sandwich with faux sausage.
Gauging the post-novelty drop-off is part of the test, said Andrea Zahumensky, chief U.S. marketing officer of KFC, a division of Yum! Brands Inc.
“We very specifically have gotten sufficient supply to be able to have this test run for multiple weeks so that we start to really understand what does this product do over time,” Zahumensky said. “Are people going to come back for it? Is it just going to be new people coming in? All of that is going to lead into, what is an acceptable level over time?”
There’s another wrinkle to the latest announcement for the booming plant-based industry -- one that may disappoint vegans and vegetarians. While the products will be made by Beyond Meat, including having been marinaded and breaded with their flavorings, they will be fried in oil that has been used with KFC chicken.
KFC says it will provide full information on its website and train employees to answer questions appropriately.
Brown says that while he’s aware of the issues facing Burger King -- it’s been sued for claiming the Impossible Whoppers are meat-free when they are cooked on the same grill as beef Whoppers -- patrons at Carl’s Jr., which does the same, haven’t complained.
“It’s an education process,” Brown said.
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