Caixin
Oct 23, 2020 07:51 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Imitation KFC Launches Imitation Chicken Burgers

Dicos at Shenzhen North Railway Station in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, Oct. 7.
Dicos at Shenzhen North Railway Station in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, Oct. 7.

It could be uncharitably described as a fake KFC selling fake meat. But news that one of China’s largest fast food chains has enlisted a promising plant-based protein startup is no joke.

Dicos fried chicken shops, which borrow heavily from the iconic Kentucky-based fast food chain and once featured servers in cowboy hats, are rolling out menu items supplied by Starfield Food and Science Technology Ltd., which makes artificial meat out of seaweed proteins.

According to Dicos’ chief marketing officer Xie Yahui, the firm’s 2,600 domestic restaurants in cities large and small will add mock chicken burgers and other products to their menus, giving more people the chance to experience plant-based meat.

The campaign is targeting a younger, more environmentally and health conscious Chinese consumer, Xie told Caixin.

Dicos, operated by Tianjin Dingqiao Catering Service Consulting Co. Ltd., is just the latest fast food chain to dabble with meat alternatives, which have been touted as a way to help alleviate some of the enormous environmental burden that comes from livestock rearing, and to guarantee food security.

Starfield’s Chief Operating Officer Chen Suiwen told Caixin the coronavirus epidemic had put pressure on catering firms, and many were now more willing to consider plant-based alternatives.

In May, Starfield partnered with chic bubble tea brand HeyTea to create a new veggie burger, and it has also teamed up with American pizza franchise Papa John’s and Canada’s Tim Hortons Inc.

In a perhaps unlikely pairing, Starbucks has been leading the use of imported artificial meats in China, using beef substitutes from Nasdaq-listed U.S. trailblazer Beyond Meat, as well OmniPork produced by Hong Kong-based startup Green Monday, which the company claims is Asia’s first ground pork substitute that “bleeds” when cut.

Meanwhile KFC has been using plant-based mock chicken products produced by Cargill, America’s largest food manufacturer, though public trials have been limited to stores in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Dicos will retail its burgers at the relatively low price point of 20 yuan ($3), or 15 yuan through its membership program, compared with Starbucks’ imported plant-based meat products that sell for between 59 and 69 yuan — more than those made with real meat.

In order to compete on cost with the growing local industry, overseas producers have been seeking out local production capacity. On Sept. 8, Beyond Meat announced it would build a factory in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, producing plant-based beef, pork and chicken products for the domestic market. It is expected to be operational by early 2021.

Green Monday has similar plans, with CEO Yang Dawei telling Caixin in September that it planned a production line in Guangdong to replace its current facility in Thailand.

Brands still face a tough battle to win hearts and minds in China, where genetically modified foods have received a generally cold reception from consumers.

A poll conducted last year estimated less than a third of people in China were interested in trying artificial meat, and more than half were not.

Contact reporter Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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