(NEXSTAR) – Chick-fil-A is testing a new “plant-forward entrée,” though it won’t be made with any of the familiar meat alternatives that its competitors are experimenting with.
Following the launch of several plant-based burger options at various fast-food chains in recent years, Chick-fil-A has announced plans to test a “Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich” made with a “tender filet” of deep-fried cauliflower in place of chicken.
The item is otherwise identical to the chain’s signature sandwich offerings, coming with pickle chips on a toasted bun.
“Guests told us they wanted to add more vegetables into their diets, and they wanted a plant-forward entrée that tasted uniquely Chick-fil-A,” said Leslie Neslage, director of menu and packaging at Chick-fil-A, in a press release issued Thursday morning.
Chick-fil-A plans to begin selling its Cauliflower Sandwiches on Feb. 13 in three test markets: Denver; Charleston, South Carolina; and the Greensboro-Triad region of North Carolina. The sandwich will be available through May, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
The offering was reportedly in development over the last four years, during which time competitors in the fast-food industry debuted a bevy of plant-based burger options, including Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and the McDonald’s McPlant, both made with plant-based patties (and utilizing plant-based “meat” developed in partnership with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, respectively). Wendy’s, another leader in the fast-food space, had also experimented with meat-free black-bean patties, and KFC debuted its Beyond Fried Chicken just a short while later.
The rush to bring a meat-free option to market comes amid recent findings from the NPD Group that showed approximately 20% of consumers are looking to add more plant-based foods to their diet — and they’re more keen to try these foods when dining out.
“Consumers eat more plant-based meat, poultry, and seafood analogues from restaurants because these foods are prepared in the same way animal protein menu items are, which means the consumer isn’t sacrificing taste for what they believe to be a healthier option,” the NPD Group, a market research firm based in New York, wrote in a press release issued earlier this month.
Many of these plant-based options, however, may not be suitable for the most strict vegetarians. The Impossible Whopper, for instance, is prepared on the same broiler as Burger King’s beef patties unless customers request otherwise. And KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken is cooked in the same fryers as its actual chicken.
Chick-fil-A, too, has indicated that its Cauliflower Sandwich is “not considered vegetarian,” though a representative for the chain was not immediately available to confirm whether it was solely because the restaurants don’t designate “vegetarian-only preparation services,” as mentioned in the press release.
Chick-fil-A has not said whether it plans to expand its test to other markets. But if successful in Colorado and the Carolinas, it’s not unlikely the sandwich could score a spot on the national menu, as Neslage hinted in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News.
“Looking at the customer metrics and ratings, we think this is really special,” Neslage told the outlet.