Plant-based protein manufacturers, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, view chicken supply chain shortages throughout the U.S. as an opportunity.

The two companies both recently introduced plant-based chicken nugget substitutes into retail and foodservice. The timing may seem coincidental, but Beyond Meat told CNBC that the new chicken tenders will reach menus at the same time that restaurants experienced both shortages and price hikes for poultry products. 

Chicken brands see growth in plant-based, too

Retail and foodservice have been plagued with chicken shortages for most of 2021. Quick service restaurant chain KFC recently announced plans to temporarily stop promoting boneless products in TV advertisements in response to a lowered supply.

The brand is currently focusing its promotional efforts on bone-in chicken. However, what if the brand – known for chicken that’s ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ – decides to turn to plant-based protein instead?

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Kevin Hochman, the president of KFC U.S., said “We envision this trend to continue to grow. We’re pretty bullish on that. We don’t think that plant-based is a fad, we think that’s something that’s going to continue to grow over time,” although he did note that he doesn’t expect that plant-based proteins will ever be “the majority of the market.”

KFC has been experimenting with plant-based chicken alternatives for a while, although nothing has permanently been added to menus yet.

Consumers will buy what’s available

Let’s face it. At least once this year, we’ve all gone to the grocery store or through a drive-thru line – hot, tired, hungry – only to be disappointed to find out that our favorite chicken product is out of stock. I know I have.

Consumers are facing the same choices we are. And while those in the industry may understand why these shortages occur, consumers may not. Instead, if their favorite chicken sandwich isn’t available, they may turn to alternatives – which have been increasingly added to menus nationwide.

Can the shortages be stopped?

Many attribute labor as one of the biggest causes of the current chicken shortage. Some blame the extra unemployment benefits, but a lack of childcare availability as a result of COVID-19 and pandemic burnout certainly also play a role.

It’s time for the chicken industry to invest in technology. Automation could augment workers currently in the industry, freeing them from repetitive or menial tasks. Robotics could move pallets, monitor bird welfare and step in for poultry mortality recovery – a task I’m sure few workers want to perform. Machine learning could simplify the poultry weighing process. These technologies show so much promise for helping the chicken industry tackle labor issues and supply chain stoppages.