Plant Pioneers No Chicken Pieces

overall rating:



Hari Kukreja
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But what about getting enough protein??? If, like me, you are a vegetarian, or on some form of meatless diet, the chances are that you get asked this question a lot. That question is increasingly becoming a lot quicker to answer (the standard answer seems to be a long list of alternative protein sources and how you can incorporate them in enough volume) with the increasing prevalence of plant-based meat substitutes. Having recently travelled from Singapore to start my first year of university in the UK, I have been amazed at the availability of meat substitutes in the UK and in particular at just how many different options the supermarket shelves are stocking. These options have the potential to be great sources of plant-based protein, and are especially convenient for those wanting to give a meat-free diet a try. With this in mind, I have chosen to review the Plant Pioneers No Chicken Pieces, a recent addition to the Sainsbury’s supermarket shelves in the UK. While they definitely hit the criteria of providing sufficient protein, the opacity around the sourcing and manufacturing of their ingredients, as well as the non-recyclability of part of their packaging casts doubts over their sustainability credentials.

What it's made of:


The first positive for this product is that, for the most part, each item in their ingredients list is immediately recognisable. The ingredients are Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Wheat Gluten, Sunflower Oil, Pea Protein Isolate, Textured Pea Protein, Potato Protein, Flavouring, Preservative: Potassium Lactate, Potassium Acetate; Pea Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid. Although there are artificial food preservatives used, the ones in the product are widely regarded as safe. There are however, two causes for concern. The first is the reasonable question of whether an artificial sweetener (dextrose) has any place in a meat substitute and the second is their lack of specification into what flavouring they use.


At 27g of protein per 100g, the protein content of the No Chicken Pieces really stands out. It is equivalent to a piece of steak and only slightly lower than chicken breast (30g/100g), but also outcompetes its plant-based competitors with Quorn Chicken Pieces and the Vegetarian Butcher’s What the Cluck containing just 14g and 21g of protein per 100g respectively. For Plant Pioneers to take their products to the next level, I believe they should publish the amino acid profile of their products as it can be the case that certain plant-based foods are lacking in essential amino acids. While they excel on the protein front, the No Chicken Pieces do have a significantly higher fat and salt content of 10g and 1.42g per 100g when compared to chicken breast’s 1.6g and 0.14g per 100g. While this is mitigated somewhat by only 1.2g of the 10g being saturated fats, this is definitely something to be aware of.


The environmental picture, too, is mixed. The packaging consists of three components: a plastic tray, sealed with plastic film and encased in a cardboard sleeve. The tray and sleeve are widely recycled across the UK and are good materials choices. The plastic film, however, is not, and this is an issue with packaging across the UK. Plastic film is usually small, with a high tensile strength. It therefore has a tendency to clog the rotating machinery at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and as a result isn’t accepted by most recycling programmes in the UK. When it comes to the ingredients they use, there is no information on how and where they are sourced. While peas are usually a sustainable crop and tend to improve soil fertility (because they live in symbiosis with soil bacteria that fix Nitrogen), wheat and corn are both water-intensive crops and have a history of being grown in monocultures. Monocultures can be devastating for biodiversity as they often involve the clearing of extremely diverse ecosystems (often forests) in favour of farms that plant just a single species of crop. The types of farming practices that are used and the distances that these crops will have travelled to reach the consumer both have a large impact on how sustainable this product is.


If Plant Pioneers wanted to improve their scores, I’d like to see them address the lack of transparency in their supply chain and to explore recyclable alternatives to the plastic film that they currently use.

How it's made:


This section is short because Plant Pioneers and their parent company (J Sainsbury’s Plc) do not provide any information on where their ingredients are sourced or how and where they manufacture the No Chicken Pieces. This is important information as the sourcing and manufacturing decisions made by a manufacturer have environmental consequences but social consequences too - consumers want to know that their food is being sourced in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner. While the manufacturing processes used by various plant-based meat alternatives vary widely, it should be noted that extrusion cooking does seem to be used in part to produce many of them. This is the process of forcing soft (and likely heated) mixed ingredients through a die to produce a solid food product of the right shape. The process is very widely used in food manufacturing and doesn’t seem to have many inherent disadvantages although it may be energy intensive.

Who makes it:


Plant Pioneers is a brand owned by the British supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s. Having launched in late 2019, with a view to Veganuary 2020 (a month in which people worldwide attempt a 31-day challenge of sticking to a plant-based diet.) they now offer over 70 different plant-based products, many of them serving as alternative protein sources for those on meat-free diets.


Sainsbury’s is a publicly listed company and so there is a large quantity of publicly available information on them. Their reporting is well organised and they produce an annual sustainability report, a report based on SASB standards and submit climate change, forestry and water reports with the CDP too. They are the first company I have seen with a CDP A rating for climate change and have had this for seven years in a row. They have ambitious goals to address plastic waste, aiming to reduce plastic usage by 50% by 2025 (from a 2018/19 baseline) and have all plastic they do use to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2023. They have so far only achieved a 1.7% reduction towards the 50% target. They also have a goal to be net zero from scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2035 and reduce scope 3 emissions by 30% by 2030 (from a 2018/19 baseline), which is great on the surface but less ambitious when it is considered that 97% of their emissions are scope 3 emissions. When it comes to supply chain transparency, they declare the amounts of cotton, soy, palm oil, timber and seafood they source from suppliers that have a relevant sustainability certification, however, there is little to no information provided on the many other ingredients and raw materials that they source.


A lack of information on the specific factories that manufacture the product means that this is all the information available for this section.