A&W Canada is expanding its roster of plant-based menu options, bringing plant-based nuggets to stores in Ontario and British Columbia.
The fast food chain has partnered with Lightlife, a brand owned by Greenleaf which is a subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., to bring plant-based nuggets to its menu beginning today.
A&W said in a news release it has been working with Lightlife “to get the taste and texture of the nuggets just right and make them available for Canadians as quickly as possible.” The result is a nugget that is produced in Canada and includes peas, wheat and fava beans on its list of ingredients.
“We’re thrilled to partner with A&W as they launch their first plant-based nugget on menu,” Dan Curtin, chief executive of Greenleaf Foods said in a statement.
“A&W is an icon in the Canadian dining landscape, and we’re excited for their guests to experience the taste, texture and satisfaction of Lightlife’s plant-based nuggets.”
Over the last several years, A&W has shifted towards natural ingredients, in part to attract younger customers to its restaurants. For example, earlier this year the company eliminated artificial cheese from its menu.
But its biggest success recently has been its move to jump on the plant-based craze well before other chains. A&W became the first fast food chain in North America to add a plant-based burger, featuring a Beyond Meat patty, to its menu in July 2018. The launch was so popular that the company sold out of the burger, and had to relaunch it in October.
While A&W has been a market leader in launching plant-based products, Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy professor at Dalhousie University, doesn’t expect the faux chicken to make as big a splash as Beyond Meat.
“It’s not like McDonald’s, which has a portfolio of products that is much more versatile. A&W is known for burgers and root beer... so I don’t think it will actually be as significant for A&W,” Charlebois said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada.
He thinks it’s a more significant move for Maple Leaf Foods, which has steadily expanded its plant protein business. The company created the Greenleaf Food division last October, and announced earlier this year it will open a US$310 million plant protein food processing facility in Indiana.
So far, plant protein sales have yet to make a major dent to Maple Leaf’s balance sheet. In the third quarter ending Sept. 30, the company’s sales for its “Plant Protein Group” increased by 30.1 per cent to $47 million. Maple Leaf’s total third quarter sales came in at $995.8 million.
“The story is more interesting for Maple Leaf and Lightlife because it will extend their bandwidth,” Charlebois said.
“They’re going to need to go beyond retail and this is one interesting way to expand their market by partnering with the food service industry... and when it comes to plant-based items, A&W were the ambassadors.”
A&W is not the only fast food chain that has been testing plant-based alternatives to chicken.
KFC Canada announced last week that it had also partnered with LightLife to create a plant-based fried chicken sandwich and popcorn chicken. The company offered the two products at one Mississauga location for one-day only, and has yet to add the items to its menu.