- Applegate's new Well Carved line, which blends plant-based ingredients with meat, is coming to store shelves this month, according to Ingredients Network. It features burgers made with organic beef and organic turkey and several vegetables and beans. Well Carved also offers organic pork and turkey meatballs blended with vegetables, cheese, beans and grains.
- “People love meat and they aren’t going to simply stop eating it, nor should they have to, regardless of how many highly processed soy or pea-based burgers you put on the market,” Applegate President John Ghingo said in a release. “Well Carved offers an easy way for consumers to enjoy the real, clean meat they crave while also reducing overall consumption.”
- The Hormel-owned brand says these new blended burgers and meatballs feature "chef-worthy pairings" of meat and plant-based ingredients. It also claims to have "a transparent ingredient list, avoiding the many questionable ingredients found in heavily processed plant-based protein alternatives."
Applegate's newest offering shows that even in the energized and tech-heavy plant-based foods sector, trends have a way of resurfacing.
Blended meat and plant-based items are relatively new to the CPG scene, but the non-meat portion of these burgers and meatballs sound like they came straight out of the '90s. About 25 years ago, consumers were seeing the first non-meat burgers in grocery stores — brands like Gardenburger, Morningstar Farms and Boca. And the term "plant-based" was decades away from being used to describe these products. Consumers knew them as "veggie burgers."
But what do these products — once red-hot sellers that now quietly sit among other plant-based options in freezer cases — have to do with Applegate's new line? One thing ties them together: Ingredients lists packed with vegetables, grains and beans. The new Grass-Fed Organic Beef Burger, for example, is made with cauliflower, spinach, lentils and butternut squash.
The Organic Turkey Burger contains sweet potato, Great Northern beans, kale and roasted onions. For the meatballs, the Well Carved Organic Asian Style Pork Meatball is made with brown rice, green onion, carrot and parsley; and the Organic Mediterranean Style Turkey Meatball has lentils, feta cheese and spinach.
These ingredients sound like more updated versions of the components that make up Gardenburgers, currently owned by Kellogg. Gardenburgers are made with ingredients including brown rice, mushrooms, onions, spinach, black beans, corn and peppers. These original plant-based burgers were designed to both carry the taste of the vegetables, and be a convenient and good-tasting option for vegetarians and those trying to reduce their meat consumption.
In the last several years, plant-based meat has taken another turn. Items such as the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger use plant proteins and other ingredients to make something that looks and tastes more like meat. The goal here is making as close of a replica of real meat as possible, and ingredients lists are heavy on the proteins, emulsifiers and flavors that make this possible.
Despite its similarity to legacy veggie burgers, one big thing sets Applegate's Well Carved line far apart: The presence of actual meat. Applegate was the first large meat brand to produce a blended burger, launching The Great Organic Blend Burger — made from a mix of meat and mushrooms — a year ago.
Other meat producers have gotten into the blended space, including Tyson, which has a blended plant and meat burger under its Raised & Rooted line. However, Tyson's blend is more like a half-plant-based burger, with the non-meat portion coming from pea protein and other ingredients used to make more meat-like plant-based food.
Since the launch of Applegate's first blended burger, Hormel CEO Jim Snee has said in analyst calls that it's performed well, particularly in foodservice to provide a less-meat option. The percentage of sales from innovations including the blended burger have grown at 15%.
The strategy is a smart one for Hormel. According to HealthFocus research, 6 in 10 Americans say they want to eat less meat. Burgers and meatballs that have both vegetables and meat give them this option without forcing them to try a wholly plant-based product.
And while the plant-based product market is surging, it makes sense to have options like this one available. Vegetables on their own are on-trend, and consumers have been buying products where they see vegetables in atypical places. Brands like Caulipower have been runaway successes because of their unconventional use of vegetables. B&G Foods recently acquired Farmwise Foods for an undisclosed amount because the brand was known as a leader in vegetable innovation.
Following the trend, consumers may want to try the Well Carved burgers and meatballs because the veggie, grain and cheese blends appeal to them. If they like the products, it could have the result of helping the old-school veggie burgers regain some of their former glory.