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Panda Express Brings Back Beyond Orange Chicken

While consumers have not exactly embraced plant-based meats at fast-food chains, the chains keep trying.

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While consumers have not exactly embraced plant-based meats at fast-food chains, the chains keep trying.

In the summer of 2021, popular Chinese-American chain Panda Express partnered with alternative meat producer Beyond Meat  (BYND) - Get Beyond Meat Inc. Report for a plant-based version of its popular Original Orange Chicken.

Even though Panda Express is privately-owned, the chain has more than 2,300 stores across both the U.S. and countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Japan. It launched in 1983 out of Glendale, California and is now by far the largest Chinese fast food chain in the country.

The plant-based chicken was a limited-time promotion to test demand for alternative proteins in certain markets in New York City and Southern California.

As the orange sauce is Panda Express' signature and the Orange Chicken its most popular menu item, it was the obvious choice for a vegetarian alternative.

According to Panda Express, the chain cooked 1,300 pounds of the meat-free chicken on the day it launched, while many locations sold out entirely within two weeks.

Popular Plant-Based Option Is Back At Panda

Just over a year later, Panda Express announced that it is bringing back the Beyond Original Orange Chicken nationwide. 

While it will be available at more than 2,300 restaurants, it is still a limited-time promotion and will sell until supplies run out. 

Panda representatives will also be hosting pop-up booths at 10 college campuses to test demand among a group more likely to go for plant-based options: Generation Z college students.

"Our team has been overjoyed by the undeniable excitement and incredible demand generated when we first introduced Beyond The Original Orange Chicken last summer as an innovative twist on our most iconic dish," Panda Express Chief Brand Officer Andrea Cherng said in a statement.

Panda Express

While Panda Express already serves naturally meat-free dishes like eggplant tofu and super greens, Beyond Original Orange Chicken is its main dish with an alternative meat protein. 

Yum! Brands  (YUM) - Get Yum! Brands Inc. Report-owned Kentucky Fried Chicken already serves items like the Beyond Chicken Nuggets and fried "chicken." Pizza Hut, another Yum! brand, also briefly sold a pizza made with Beyond pepperoni.

Despite Market Competition, Demand For Alternative Is Not Waning

Stock of Beyond Meat is down more than 80% year-over-year, in large part due to the supply chain struggles and a large number of competitors coming onto the market.

Nestlé  (NESAF) , Smithfield Foods, and Cargill are just some of the brands that have recently committed to increasing their alternative meat products.

The demand for more meat-free products continues to gain steam. With both rising meat prices and growing environmental consciousness, many in Western countries continue look to lessen meat consumption for reasons ranging from health and social consciousness to financial.

According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the plant-based market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.3% and reach $24.8 billion by 2030. 

The question is whether Beyond, which is currently one of the biggest alternative meat producers in the world, will continue to lead this change.

The company has certainly been feeling pressure to keep up and, along with the partnership with Panda Express, has been trying to generate buzz around the brand by making socialite Kim Kardashian its face and "chief taste consultant." 

As Beyond stock continues to flounder, some analysts are speculating whether it's time to "buy the dip" with the company given overall demand for alternative meat sources or look at other companies making similar products.

"Beyond Meat has done an excellent job diversifying its products, but there's competition in most categories," Brad Ginesin wrote for TheStreet's Real Money. "Beyond once dominated the plant-based meat section at Whole Foods  (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com Inc. Report, but now it looks more like the yogurt section with offerings from numerous makers."

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