The line wrapping around KFC to get the Beyond Fried Chicken. (Photo: Susan Lamb)

Yesterday KFC made headlines when the fast-food chain announced that it would test out plant-based Beyond Meat chicken nuggets in one location in suburban Atlanta.

As the majority of the Spoon team is based in the Pacific Northwest, we couldn’t quite justify a trip to taste the plant-based chicken ourselves. Thankfully I grew up in Atlanta and my parents still live there — so this morning I called up my mother to ask her for a big favor: to drive over to KFC and try the Beyond Fried Chicken.

“This is crazy,” she said thirty minutes later when she called to update me. She described lines around the block 70 people deep with dozens of cars queued up to get into the drive-thru. Traffic was stopped on the entire right-hand side of Cobb Parkway, a major city thoroughfare. It was barely 11 a.m. “I can’t believe this is happening in Atlanta!” 

Indeed, the ATL is a place that dearly loves its fried chicken. A soul food hub, the city is also home of Chick-fil-A, which has expanded across the nation drawing fans with its crispy chicken sandwiches and nuggets.

My mother may be nice, but she’s not nice enough to wait in line for three hours on a rainy Tuesday (I can’t blame her). So instead she found a few lucky folks who had already scored their Beyond Fried Chicken and called me up to interview them.

Justin and Ryan with their Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets and wings.

Justin and Ryan waited in line for an hour right when the KFC opened at 10:30am in order to snag the Beyond Fried Chicken. They got 12-piece nuggets ($8.00) and a 6-piece wings, Nashville Hot flavor ($6.00). “They’re really good — the breading is nice, and they’re juicier than other fake chicken we’ve tried like from Morningstar,” they told me. They also said that the nuggets were relatively bland, but that the barbecue dipping sauce added a lot of flavor.

Both Justin and Ryan are vegetarian so they couldn’t speak to whether they thought the Beyond Fried Chicken would fool a meat-eater. They also didn’t offer to share the hard-won “chicken” with my mom (fair enough), so she, a fried chicken obsessive, couldn’t give me her opinion.

Based off of looks alone, it doesn’t seem like the Beyond Fried Chicken is going to be enticing any hardcore carnivores. “It doesn’t look very appetizing,” my mom told me later after sending me a photo of Justin and Ryan’s hard-earned nuggets and wings.

Indeed, the plant-based chicken isn’t winning any beauty contests. But a good chunk of ATL-liens don’t seem to care — heck, they’ll even drive out of their way and wait for hours in the rain for it.

At least part of this fuss is because Beyond Meat has become such a buzzed-about news topic ever since their successful IPO. Consumers are also always drawn to the next hot trend, and the KFC/Beyond Meat partnership got a lot of media coverage. There’s also a slight ‘Free Stuff!’ incentive: today the select KFC location is giving out complimentary samples of Beyond Fried Chicken from 10:30am to 6:30pm (with the purchase of a full-priced menu item and while supplies last).

However, I don’t think the promise of a free plant-based nugget was enough to draw crowds of this size. Instead, the viral popularity of the Beyond Fried Chicken speaks to just how much consumers want plant-based options, well, everywhere. Even in a city famed for its love of fried bird.

“It’s a sensation,” my mother said as she pulled out of the parking lot to head home. KFC stated that it would consider consumer response to the plant-based chicken before it considered a larger product rollout. If it mirrors what happened with Burger King and Qdoba, both of which tested out Impossible Foods products briefly in a few locations before expanding nationwide, that rollout will happen pretty soon.

Based on today’s response, I’m guessing we’ll soon be able to taste KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken in a lot more places — maybe even Seattle.

Update: According to a press release sent to The Spoon, KFC sold out of Beyond Fried Chicken in less than 5 hours. In that time, the amount of Beyond Fried Chicken purchased by guests was equal to the amount of popcorn chicken that KFC would typically sell in one week.

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