Big news for China’s vegans and vegetarians: KFC and Starbucks will be testing out entirely plant-based items on their mainland Chinese menus in the coming weeks.
On Monday, KFC China announced on social media platform Weibo that a line of limited-edition, plant-based chicken nuggets will be available exclusively at three select locations in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. During this testing period, they are selling five of these nuggets for only 1.99RMB (0.20USD), compared to 11RMB (1.50USD) for regular chicken nuggets.
According to KFC’s official English website, the US market equivalent Beyond Fried Chicken — developed by Beyond Meat — is primarily made of soy, wheat, and pea proteins. These nuggets have sparked some controversy however for not being “purely vegan,” as they are prepared in the same fryers as KFC’s regular fried chicken. The ingredients for the Chinese market’s nuggets are not yet disclosed.
KFC has been known to get creative in the past when localizing its chicken nuggets. The company reverted to selling Chinese street food at one point last year, and turned heads (and noses) last September when it launched its durian chicken nuggets.
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As if in response, a day later on Tuesday, Starbucks China announced that it would launch its new menu featuring Beyond Meat and OmniPork products. The menu includes lasagna, pasta with pesto sauce, and a Spicy & Sour Wrap — all made with meat substitutes — and offers coffee with oat milk from Swedish brand Oatly.
KFC China claims on its Weibo account that pre-sale vouchers for its nuggets are proving very popular, with the limited numbers apparently selling out quickly each day. However, netizens on Weibo seem not so impressed.
One highly upvoted Weibo comment read, “It will be popular in Western countries, but no way in China.” Another proclaimed, “Very few Chinese are vegetarians.”
One especially wise commenter added, “Why would we go to KFC if we wanted something healthy?”
Yet while China is the largest producer and consumer of meats like pork, plant-based lifestyles are slowly starting to catch on. People are increasingly open to embracing a “flexitarian” lifestyle in the country, switching out meat on occasion for plant-based substitutes. And companies both within and outside Asia are starting to bank big on it.
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The timing of the new menu items — which are being released during the Covid-19 pandemic — seems to also be a well-positioned strategy in a time when people are increasingly conscious of their health and wellbeing. In addition, the recent ban on selling wild animals, and the domestic shortage of meat in China because of Covid-19 and African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) could also be playing a big role.
Whether or not these two chains will see success with these plant-based menus remain to be seen however.
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