Opinion | Kentucky Fried Chicken’s new plant-based nuggets: right idea, wrong execution

By Lindsey Golden, For The Pitt News

Social media apps such as Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat are buzzing with advertisements promoting Kentucky Fried Chicken’s newest product — plant-based Beyond Meat chicken nuggets.

KFC is one of the latest fast food chains to create a vegan option that would expand their market. Other fast food chains such as Chipotle and Burger King were early to jump on the plant-based option and therefore have unknowingly forced other chains to rise to the challenge.

It’s good to see another chain join the trend, especially one as big as KFC. But it is only good if they actually care about being sustainable. KFC created and is now promoting their plant-based nuggets, but their efforts seem half hearted and as if they do not genuinely care about sustainability. They care about profit.

Fast food chains have received criticism from the public in recent years about their contributions to climate change, and as a response to the criticism, some even moved past creating sustainable menu items options. McDonald’s, Yum! Brands — the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — Chipotle, Domino’s and Wendy’s have all committed to aggressively lowering their CO2 emissions.

While it may seem like these companies are focusing on climate change because they care, it’s really because they can make more money when the public thinks they care. By creating sustainable options, these fast food corporations are appealing to the masses — and doing so for completely selfish reasons.

For one, it’s important to mention that fast food chains have only started offering sustainable options in recent years. Burger King led the pack when it rolled out the Impossible Whopper in 2019. The release of the Impossible Whopper was one of Burger King’s most successful menu item rollouts and was the brand’s strongest growth since 2015, raising $300 million in capital.

The Impossible Whopper’s success encouraged other fast-food chains to follow suit. Yet it’s interesting that other fast food chains didn’t create plant-based options before they knew it would yield profit margins like those of the Impossible Whopper. Many of the plant-based fast food options we consume today probably wouldn’t be around if the Impossible Whopper wasn’t a whopping success.

Despite releasing sustainable, environmentally friendly menu items, the fast food industry has struggled to maintain a positive image in the public eye. Data released in the past decade has shown the public that the fast food industry and climate change are intrinsically linked. For example, animal agriculture is responsible for 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions, which is the primary driver of climate change related to livestock.

It has become increasingly difficult for the public to turn a blind eye to the devastating impact of the fast food industry, which is why plant-based products are the new shiny solution to a public relations mess. Therefore, it is important to question the motivations behind fast food companies that proudly boast a new sustainable item.

Around two years ago, KFC introduced its new global Chicken Welfare guidelines as “part of its long-standing commitment to a sustainable supply chain.” Notably, KFC’s recent climate-friendly efforts happened after the successful launch of the Impossible Whopper in 2019. This makes it seem like the company’s recent activism is performative and that their plant-based nuggets are just a ploy to win over a market they could not have dreamed of touching only three years ago.

That being said, I decided it was important to try the nuggets for myself to see if they were worth it compared to regular nuggets.

After all of the taste testing, I concluded that the plant-based nuggets were overall solid, but surprisingly tough to chew. KFC is a respectable competitor in the fast food industry with seemingly unlimited resources, which means they probably could have made a better plant-based nugget.

Lindsey Golden writes about social issues for the Pitt News. Email her at [email protected].