- More than $1.1 billion has been invested in alternative proteins so far in 2020, according to a report published by FAIRR. The investment in the first half of this year is more than double the total 2019 investment in the space, which was $534 million,
- Unilever and British grocery chain Tesco are most advanced in their protein diversification strategies, the report says, ranking both as pioneers in the movement. Both companies have explored more protein alternatives for reasons beyond giving consumers more choices, including sustainability. Costco, Amazon and Kraft Heinz were ranked lowest and deemed reactive in the movement. Kraft Heinz actually saw its score fall in the last year because of lack of innovation in the alternative protein space, the report said.
- Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR and chief investment officer at Coller Capital, said in the report's introduction that this is "hard evidence that big food brands are vying for their slice of the plant-based pie. They are drastically scaling-up and skilling-up their capacity to research and develop plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy."
It seems like alternative proteins are getting more popular each day with record-breaking sales, product launches and more flagship brand items made with alternatives. This report quantifies the buy-in from food and grocery companies. While it is apparent that consumers are buying more alternative proteins, it's hard to always see the steps legacy food and grocery companies are taking in the sector, especially since R&D work, changing company structures and the emphasis placed on alternative proteins to reduce pollution are more internal changes.
This is the second year FAIRR has done this report, and it shows progress across the board. FAIRR is an investor network that aims to showcase the risks of animal-based agriculture and pushes for large companies to turn to more alternatives. The network produces reports on both the animal and alternative protein sector, and this report said it has actively made contact with 25 companies about their participation in the alternative space.
Emphasis on the alternative protein sector in Big Food and large grocery companies is growing. Conagra Brands, Kerry Group, Nestlé, Saputo and Unilever all have teams dedicated to alternative protein, making up about 40% of brands studied. A tenth of Nestlé's R&D staff is dedicated to plant-based products, and Unilever opened a $94 million innovation center for plant-based food called The Hive in the Netherlands last year.
Grocery companies are also making a big play in the space, the report shows. Ten grocers in the report — including major U.S. players Ahold Delhaize and Kroger — have their own private label brands of plant-based products. Kroger, Coles, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco all have dedicated human resources focused on plant-based product development. The report shows that there is more momentum toward plant-based food going on inside some grocers and companies than can be seen on store shelves.
For companies with few new products and initiatives in the alternative space, the report shows they also tend to have much less of an internal commitment to it as well. Kraft Heinz and Costco, both at the bottom of the rankings, showed a drop in score compared to 2019. Kraft Heinz's only major product in the space, the Boca Burger, is a '90s-style veggie burger that had just a 3.8% share of the plant-based market in 2019, according to Euromonitor statistics cited in the report. The mega-company's only involvement in developing the space that the report found was its venture arm Evolv Ventures' 2019 investment in New Culture, an animal-free dairy cheese company, and for including plant-based yogurt company Tiny Giants in its second Springboard Incubator class.
However, the progress of many of the companies in the rankings indicates a lot of manufacturers and grocery companies are moving into another phase of their evolution toward alternatives to animal products. Most have moved beyond the realization that they should change their product selection to provide more consumer alternatives.
Companies now are at the point where the next step could be more formally integrating alternatives and their associated sustainability metrics into their long-range plans. While this is still a major step, it underlies something even more major: plant-based is no longer considered a niche or a fad. It's no longer something for the big players to leave to companies only focusing on that sector, and is intrinsic to their long-term strategies.