Ask almost any kid, and they will tell you certain shapes can make a food go from good to great. Just look at chocolate Easter bunnies, Goldfish crackers, or anything Mickey Mouse shaped at Disneyland. Now, add plant-based goodies to that menu.
Impossible Foods, one of the biggest names in plant-based proteins, has a new product meant to use fun food shapes to teach children about wildlife conservation. Wild Nuggies are meatless nuggets shaped like four different endangered species: Black rhinoceroses, Galapagos tortoises, polar bears and right whales.
Impossible Foods first introduced it’s “chicken-less” nuggets last year with an initial rollout across restaurants like those owned by celebrity chefs David Chang and Marcus Samuelsson. By the end of 2021, grocery retailers around the country were carrying the nuggets for consumers to enjoy at home.
The Wild Nuggies are made of the same ingredients as their traditional-shaped counterparts, including soy protein, sunflower oil, and food starch. Impossible Foods says that its nuggets “use 49 percent less land, 44 percent less water and generate 36 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than animal-based nuggets.”
Impossible’s Wild Nuggies are not to be confused with another animal-shaped, plant-based nuggets – Simulate brand’s Dino Nuggs. Those are shaped like creatures that are extinct. Impossible’s nuggets, however, are shaped like animals in danger of becoming extinct if we don’t take serious action.
“Our goal is to spark a conversation at the dinner table about how our food choices impact our planet, and how eating plant-based is the best way for kids to help combat the urgent threat of climate change and nature loss,” said Laura Kliman, Impossible Foods’ director of new product development, in a press release about the Wild Nuggies launch.
While I appreciate the intention, there is some disconnect - there's some information about the animals on the packaging, but one must scan a QR code to learn more - and that code is hidden at the bottom of a side panel - a task with which many parents may not to bother as they scramble to prepare a meal.
Like Impossible Foods, Annie’s (a General Mills brand) also uses fun shapes to draw awareness to environmental issues, especially with its macaroni and cheese products.
But Annie’s has done a much better job with its messaging as there is a clear connection between many of its “quirky” products and its corporate responsibility initiatives.
In 2018, Annie’s used limited-edition packaging to spread the word about regenerative farming practices. The macaroni and cheese boxes listed the farmers’ names, location and specific crops used to make the product. The boxes also included information about sustainable farming.
Since then, Annie’s has offered a range of fun pasta products directly tied to sustainable agricultural initiatives, such as Mac and Bees, Pollinator Pals, and Farm Friends.
Side note: If you think that macaroni and cheese varieties don’t have lasting impact on kids, consider this highly unscientific poll of my Facebook friends. I asked people to share their favorite mac-and-cheese shapes, and a heated debate quickly followed: “Spongebob! No, Rugrats! No, stick with classic elbows or shells!”
So are products like wildlife-shaped meatless nuggets or farm tractor-shaped pasta actually effective at bringing about environmental awareness?
Let’s be honest: The real audience for these products is most likely adults with a desire to relive their childhoods in a healthier, more sustainable way. After all, my fellow millennials and I grew up in the glory days of attention-grabbing food. We had purple ketchup, Ghostbuster juice boxes, and nearly a dozen breakfast cereals that were really just big boxes of teeny-tiny baked goods.
Today, many of us are parents and buying groceries for our families while atoning for decades of less-than-ideal food choices. (Do you know how many chicken nuggets we as a generation collectively consumed in the quest for all of the McDonald’s Happy Meal Teeny Beanie Babies? Trust me, we could all use some plant-based alternatives now that we are older and watching our cholesterol.)
But if we have the choice between buying traditional plant-based nuggets or ones in the shape of a rhino? We are definitely going to pick the rhino.
Image credit: Impossible Foods