Call it Kentucky Fried Fake Meat.
According to Business Insider, America's iconic deep-fried meat company, KFC, is meeting with major plant-based "meat" makers to discuss what a vegan version of fried chicken could look like. The revolutionary shift in company strategy comes as vegan, plant-based "meats" join the menu at chains like Del Taco and Burger King. And now, in a future that Kevin Hochman, the president of KFC's US business, once thought unthinkable, chicken chains might be next to jump on the meat-substitute bandwagon.
"If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said no, to be completely honest with you," Hochman told Business Insider. "Because, we're about fried chicken."
However, if the current buzz around companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat translates into long-term customer demand, then KFC will certainly test a plant-based meat substitute in the US, Hochman said. The chain has already been testing vegetarian "fried chicken" in the UK.
"In the last two weeks I've made several appointments with some of the big guys, just to figure out — what does alternative protein look like in chicken?" Hochman said.
KFC may not be the first chicken company to use "chicken substitutes" - previously Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A's menu, told Business Insider that the chain is also in the early stages of exploring adding vegan options to the menu.
"We're certainly wanting to broaden our thinking and really start big in that funnel and come down," Norris said. "We think it is certainly beyond just no meat on salads or no meat in a wrap. It might be some kind of alternative protein on a sandwich."
To be sure, an anti-meat wave has been sweeping across the US fast-food establishment, and chains including TGI Fridays, Carl's Jr., and Red Robin now serve either the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger. Del Taco's vegan Beyond Taco is on track to become one of the chain's best-ever new-product launches. Burger King teamed up with Impossible Foods to roll out Impossible Whoppers nationally by the end of 2019
"We think this is a new category that we can build on for the long haul," Restaurant Brands International CEO José Cil told Business Insider."We think that plant-based burgers and other products will continue to be part of our business for the long term."
The biggest winners of this new wave are, of course, the producers of meat-substitutes: two weeks ago, Impossible Foods announced a $300 million series E funding round led by Temasek and Horizon Ventures. The news also followed Beyond Meat's explosive public debut earlier in May, when shares soared 163% on its first day of trading.
And, in the latest nightmare for Beyond Meat shorts who have been piling on the bearish side of BYND ever since its $25/share IPO, the KFC news sent BYND stock sharply higher this morning, pushing the stock price above $100 for the first time as margined-out shorts are forced to cover at any price.