KFC tells plant-based haters to relax

For the national launch of its vegan-friendly 'chicken' sandwich, the QSR aims to bring skeptics into its broad audience.

KFC plant-based

KFC Canada is asking customers to “relax” as it makes its plant-based “chicken” sandwich a permanent menu item after seeing strong demand for the product during a market test last year.

In November, the QSR partnered with Maple Leaf-owned Lightlife to test a plant-based “chicken” sandwich and plant-based popcorn “chicken” at a KFC location in Mississauga. The trial resulted in a month’s worth of product being sold in six hours, according to KFC CMO Samantha Redman, so the company has decided to make the menu item available at all its locations on a permanent basis beginning today.

To support the roll out, the Yum! Brands subsidiary has launched a national campaign spanning TV, digital, social and out-of-home and influencer efforts. In addition, KFC locations in Surrey, Edmonton, Brampton and Halifax have been decorated in “green,” and all locations will appear on Google in the plant-inspired colour.

The campaign playfully positions the launch as a controversial move for a company whose bread and butter has been real fried chicken since 1952, with some of the creative including comments from incredulous customers, mirroring real-world, knee-jerk aversion some people have to plant-based meat alternatives.

Rather than fuel the debate between meat and plant-based eating, Redman says the ads are meant to encourage “both sides – and everyone in between – to take a deep breath and relax.”

Like most plant-based alternatives, KFC’s new sandwich targets a large swathe of Canadians, from those exclusively plant-based eaters to flexitarians with mixed diets, she says.

In addition to having had a veggie sandwich on the menu since 2009 – which will remain available at KFC locations – Redman says demand has been steadily growing for more plant-based alternatives in Canada, which makes her feel confident the interest seen during the trial phase will not simply peter out over time.

However, some research has shown awareness of plant-based options hasn’t driven comparable levels of trial. And last September, after a national launch, Tim Hortons removed the Beyond Meat burger from its menu and reduced the availability of its Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich to only British Columbia and Ontario, where reception had been more positive.

In March, Dan Curtin, president of Maple Leaf Foods’ plant-based division, Greenleaf Foods (which owns the Lightlife and Field Roast plant-based brands), told strategy the company’s growth would rely on new product innovation at retail as well as new food service partnerships. In Canada, the company has also partnered with A&W, Harvey’s and Kelsey’s.

Creative and strategy for the campaign were led by John St, the brand’s AOR since 2019, with Edelman leading PR and influencer and Wavemaker handling media.