- Jack in the Box and Raised & Rooted, Tyson Foods' brand for alternative protein products, have debuted Jack’s Unchicken and Jack’s Spicy Unchicken sandwiches in select locations in Monterey and Salinas, California, and Reno, Nevada, according to the press release. The plant-based sandwiches will be available through Dec. 12.
- The product is made from pea protein isolate topped with Jack in the Box’s traditional crispy breading. Available a la carte or as a combo option, guests can choose between regular or spicy sandwiches.
- While menu innovation, especially plant-based product releases, were paused during the height of the pandemic in March and April, the addition of alternative protein options increased in the summer and fall at chains including Corner Bakery, The Habit Burger, Starbucks, Papa Murphy’s, KFC and Wawa.
While KFC was one of the first QSRs to test a plant-based chicken product, Jack in the Box appears to be the first to launch a plant-based chicken sandwich, which could pique consumer interest. Jack in the Box has fared well during the pandemic, increasing same-store sales systemwide by 6.6% during its third quarter ending July 5, 2020, compared to 2.7% during its third quarter ending July 7, 2019. The boost in sales was helped by the chain's focus on delivery and its offering of more portable menu items, CEO Darin Harris said during an earnings call.
The new plant-based item could help boost sales and average check going forward as plant-based products tend to cost more. In an interview with FSR magazine, Severin Nunn, who was then director of food and beverage at The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, said, "These menu items also offer great profit margins. With meat, a restaurant’s food cost is around 30 percent, compared to 15 percent for plant-based entrees. You can lower the price point while increasing your margins." Pricing, however, is key to determine whether beef or plant-based will bring in more money for a restaurant.
After Burger King launched its Impossible Whopper nationwide last year, it drove 5% of the chain’s U.S. comp sales during Q3 2019. KFC sold out of its plant-based chicken in less than five hours during a trial in Atlanta. The company has since brought the item to several new markets, serving it for a limited time in Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The company expanded the product to 50 locations in Southern California in July.
Consumer sentiment has also shifted since the start of the year, with 30% of consumers in August compared to 23% of consumers in January saying they would likely switch to another restaurant brand that offered plant-based meats, according to a survey by Revenue Management Services. But while 49% say they are willing to pay more for plant-based meats, 53% believe they are too expensive. Despite the cost, 49% of consumers said they have eaten plant-based proteins over the last 12 months and 39% said they are eating them weekly.
Pricing could change in the future with more options available to foodservice providers than just Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Along with Tyson Foods' expansion into the plant-based realm, new products have cropped up from Nestlé, Morningstar and Before the Butcher, which recently launched a plant-based burger costing the same as beef and will be available to foodservice clients. Having more suppliers will also help stave off any supply shortages, which occurred in 2019 when demand for Impossible Foods overwhelmed supply, leaving a lot of independent restaurants in the lurch.