As a child of the 70s, I grew up watching commercials with Frank Perdue talking about his name brand of chickens. I don’t know if my mom ever bought Perdue chicken, but I know I haven’t since becoming an adult. So it was a little strange to rip open the bag of frozen Perdue Chicken Plus chicken breast and vegetable patties and tenders the company sent me to test out.
The Chicken Plus product hit store shelves this month and the hook is that vegetables are blended in with the chicken, so it’s a sneaky way to get your kids to eat their veggies. Perdue’s June press release announcing Chicken Plus describes the product as such:
…PERDUE CHICKEN PLUS blends cauliflower, chickpeas and plant protein to create the next generation of frozen chicken nuggets, tenders and patties, and each serving is complete with one-quarter cup (half a serving of vegetables) and is made with 100 percent all-natural ingredients and no antibiotics ever white meat chicken.
Like so many other traditional meat companies, Perdue is seeing the writing on the wall as sales of plant-based proteins from the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible skyrocket. The Food Marketing Institute’s “Power of Meat 2019” report found that “plant-based meat alternatives sales increased 19.2% last year and account for $878 million in annual sales.”
And Perdue is by no means alone. The chicken company joins other high-profile traditional meat companies in jumping on the plant-based bandwagon. Just this week, Hormel launched its Happy Little Plants line of meatless meat, and the other chicken giant, Tyson, has invested in plant-based shrimp company New Wave Foods.
Tyson is actually the most apt comparison for Perdue. Not only are both companies in the chicken business, but in June, Tyson launched its Raised & Rooted line of chicken products, which also feature a blend of chicken and vegetable protein. My colleague Catherine Lamb explained why blended protein is becoming big in her (excellent) Future Food newsletter this summer when she asked Are Blended Meats the Future of Flexitarian Dining?:
Perdue and Tyson are smart to take baby steps into the alternative protein space, though at this point it’s clearly too big a market opportunity to ignore (except for Arby’s, apparently). By starting with blended products, major meat processing companies can grow their customer base into a new market, all while retaining their existing infrastructure.
It’s also a way for traditional meat companies to hang on and not alienate their existing meat-loving customer base.
For its part, Perdue is really leaning into the whole flexitarian lifestyle. The headline for its Chicken Plus press release was how the product could “meet demand for flexitarian families” and that the company was there “to help flexitarian families who are hungry for new ways to fill the vegetable void…” I’m a bit more of a skeptic and think Perdue didn’t want to play, errr, chicken with the oncoming wave of plant-based protein.
All of this business about flexitarianing is all well and good, but how do the Chicken Plus tenders and patties taste?
Pretty much like chicken tenders and patties. I air fried them both, and while they are a little mushier than a straight up chicken tender or patty, both still tasted like chicken. And by that I mean a processed chicken. Serving sizes pack plenty of salt: 480 mg (20 percent of your daily value) for a Chicken Plus patty and 460 mg in three tenders (19 percent of your daily value).
But it really doesn’t matter what I think. The tenders and such are more for kids. So what did my eight-year-old think? I asked him after school if he wanted chicken tenders for snack, neglecting to mention the veggie part, and he enthusiastically said yes. I cooked and plated them and he gobbled them up without saying a word.
“Did you like them?” I asked.
“Yeah,” was all I got back. Which, in this case was more than enough. He didn’t think there was anything odd or off about them, and he asked for more the next day after school. So Perdue should take that as a win.
I’m not a nutritionist, I can’t say how “healthy” the vegetable servings in Chicken Plus really are. In addition to the sodium count, the Chicken Plus tenders have 10g of protein and 21 g of carbs. Regular Perdue breaded chicken tenders have 10 g of protein, 420mg of sodium, and 16g of carbs. So it’s not like there’s a huge difference between the two.
Though a 22 oz. bag of Chicken Plus product is $6.99, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any. My son is already pretty good about eating his vegetables, so I don’t need a clandestine delivery mechanism for them. And more important to me is whether the chicken is organic, which Chicken Plus is not, so there isn’t a reason for me to buy a bag of it.
I don’t even think Frank Perdue could convince me.