Can meatless nuggets challenge the chicken on the UK’s high streets? | Food industry

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It’s been called the year of the nugget because plant-based ‘chicken’ nuggets claiming to be ‘better for you and the planet’ rival the real thing in UK chicken shops.

A new brand of fake nuggets, made by popular US plant-based food company Impossible Foods, hit the high street this week and will be rolled out to thousands of takeaways, restaurants and pubs, as well as food outlets. supermarkets. year.

Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown said the company, which is worth around $7bn (£5.6bn) and has a cast of star-studded investors including Bill Gates, Jay-Z and Katy Perry, that it was possible to make meat from plants that is more sustainable, nutritious and delicious than animal products.

The former Stanford University biochemistry professor said: “Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals in the global food system by 2035 and I would say we are going to do that. Every day we become better and more efficient and the cow is not, and the pig is not, and the chicken is not.

Impossible is best known for its fake burger, which Brown describes as a “stunning” product. However, soy lehemoglobin – known as heme – the secret ingredient it uses to create the “meat” taste is produced by genetically modified yeast and has not been approved by the Food Standards Agency, considering its application.

Chicken is the country’s most popular meat, with levels of consumption far exceeding beef, lamb or pork and, although less popular than burger chains, the Kingdom’s more than 3,500 chicken shops UK sold almost £2billion worth of fried chicken wings, poppers and nuggets last year. , according to Mintel Market Research. However, the popularity of these cheap and satiating foods is believed to be a contributing factor to the obesity problem in the UK.

According to Mintel, companies like Impossible will face an uphill struggle to convert fast food customers to alternative meat products, as Britons prefer meat-based comfort foods such as burgers and fried chicken. However, fast food chains are eager not to miss out on the growing popularity of plant-based diets and earlier this year Burger King began selling vegan nuggets made by Unilever’s The Vegetarian Company.

Impossible Nuggets have 1g of salt per 100g, 25% less than a standard bite of chicken, although McNuggets don’t have half that level. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Like many herbal options, Impossible Nuggets are more expensive than the products they attempt to replace. The Chicken Cottage menu, which is a guide for its franchisees, suggests they charge £1 per meatless nugget, with a ‘five for £5’ offer. By comparison, the real chicken nuggets on the menu cost £3.50 for six, making it a tough sell during a cost of living crisis.

Impossible claims its “chicken” nuggets are better for the environment because producing them requires 55% less water and 24% less land than animal-based chicken nuggets. Made from soy and wheat flour, the nuggets contain 1g of salt per 100g, which Impossible says is 25% less than a standard bite of chicken, but not the McNuggets which have half that level. .

Trish Caddy, principal analyst at Mintel, said it looked like it would be “the year of the nugget” after a previous flurry of innovation focused on plant-based burgers. However, the high prices would be turned off for value-conscious fast food customers, she suggested.

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Some food experts argue that alternative meat is junk food in another form, but Brown disputes that. “We are incredibly conscientious about making food better than what it replaces. Our chicken nuggets are not meant to replace a lentil salad. They are meant to replace a chicken nugget, made from a chicken, and from a nutrition and health perspective, that’s a net positive.

Marisa Heath, chief executive of the Plant-based Food Alliance, said anything that helps the shift to foods with low environmental impact should be welcome.

“This is an important time for change and the products Impossible is bringing to the UK will facilitate those changes,” she said. “With 75% of people eating chicken every week and intensive chicken farming on the rise in this country, that must be a good thing for the environment and sustainability.”

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