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KFC to Join Vegetarian Bandwagon?


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Buzz about KFC’s efforts to create vegetarian options in the UK and Ireland markets have delighted many, but disappointed some. Are fast-food chains responding to meatless markets in Europe, but not the U.S.? If so, American vegetarians are not having it.

One petition in particular, created by social networking site Care2, was made in response to KFC announcing an initiative to reduce calories by 20 percent on its U.K. and Ireland menu by 2025. Vegetarian options—possibly a “mock chicken”—were mentioned in this goal but KFC did not go into detail.

“The development of the recipe is still in its very early stages and so the options we’re exploring in our kitchen are still top secret,” said a KFC U.K. spokesperson. “Once we’ve perfected the recipe we aim to test with customers this year, and if all goes well we hope to launch a new vegetarian option in 2019."

After reading an article about this, Rebecca Gerber, senior director of engagement at Care2 and a vegetarian of 15 years, created the petition calling for “vegetarian fried chicken” in KFC's U.S. market. It’s garnered 21,000 signatures in the week it’s been up.

“I thought, how unfair,” said Gerber when she saw that KFC was working toward vegetarian options in the U.K. and not in the U.S. “We have so many vegetarians [in the U.S.] and people interested in a plant-based diet.”

According to a poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group cited by Gerber, 8 million Americans follow a strict vegetarian diet. In addition, 37 percent of Americans are more inclined to eat a plant-based diet when dining out. That’s a lot of people who can only eat sides like green beans and corn at KFC.

“It would be great if fast-food restaurants knew how many of their customers are vegetarian or vegetarian-curious,” said Gerber of this market. Concrete statistics showing a recent increase in this lifestyle are hard to come by, but a Vegetarian Times study in 2008 claimed 6 percent of Americans were vegetarian then, and a Statista study now shows 12 percent of Americans ages 18-49 don’t eat meat.

Statistics aside, the fact that a meat-based chain like KFC that created its brand on chicken is even considering vegetarian options further affirms the market for this diet, Gerber noted.

Current vegetarian fried chicken recipes range from using twice-frozen tofu, to seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, to soy protein. PETA and other vegetarian and vegan recipe sites all have renditions of famous fried chicken, such as Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A, but no well-known chains have these options.

Colonel Sanders isn’t the only one vegetarians are targeting. Care2 also has petitions for bringing the vegan Impossible Burger to McDonald’s and adding vegan cheese as an option at Pizza Hut.

Many fast-food restaurants actually do serve vegetarian and vegan options: Burger King, Red Robin and Denny’s all have a veggie burger; Panera has a completely vegan black bean soup; and Taco Bell has a black bean burrito that can be made vegan by replacing the cheese with pico de gallo.

Care2 petitions have proven successful in the past. Gerber mentioned after a couple with a dog was turned away during Hurricane Harvey at a Holiday Inn Express, more than 90,000 people called for a change in the hotel’s pet policy. Almost immediately, the parent company changed its policies across all hotels and donated to hurricane relief programs.

Whether or not this petition will be as successful is something American vegetarians will have to wait to find out, but one thing’s for sure: they want their vegetarian fried chicken.

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
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Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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