- Cargill will make private label plant-based patties and ground products that will be available in stores and on menus starting in early April, the company announced on Monday.
- These products, from one of the world's largest companies in the protein space, were developed through Cargill's culinary knowledge and consumer research and innovation. They will be made in Cargill facilities.
- "Cargill has a strong history of providing high-quality protein products to customers," Elizabeth Gutschenritter, managing director of Cargill's alternative protein team, said in a statement. "Producing plant-based products across our global supply chain is the logical next step to expanding our ability to meet consumer needs and bring new value to this category."
While Cargill may be a relatively late entrant into the plant-based food space, it is a formidable competitor — and may quickly start out as a dominant player. After all, it's difficult to match the expertise, access to ingredients, R&D, supply chain and size of Cargill. The agribusiness giant is the world's largest privately held company, and it has the ability to get into the plant-based meat business in a very big way.
This announcement is different from other large companies that have announced their entree into the plant-based meat market. It's not known what this product will be called — though since it is private label, it may take on numerous names, depending on the retailer or foodservice entity that sells it.
There has been no announcement about what ingredients it will use, but Cargill likely has a ready supply of everything it might need. And no prototypes or features to differentiate it from the pack have been made.
Cargill appears to have been setting itself up for this move during the last several years, highlighted by its investment of more than $100 million in Puris, a major pea protein supplier. With its functional benefits, high protein content, sustainability bona fides and relative inexpensive growing costs, pea protein has been one of the leading ingredients in all plant-based meat products. It's highly likely that Puris, a supplier to Beyond Meat, will be providing some of the ingredients and expertise for the new burger and grounds.
While Cargill also is known for its conventional meat, the company makes clear in its press release that it is taking an "inclusive approach to the future of protein." Cargill said the consensus of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is that protein demand will increase 70% during the next 30 years, so the company is working to meet that consumption through all means possible.
"We need to keep all protein options on the table," Brian Sikes, leader of Cargill's protein and salt business, said in the press release. "Whether you are eating alternative or animal protein, Cargill will be at the center of the plate."
Cargill also has shown interest in new ways of creating animal protein, participating in a $12 million investment in Israel cell-based meat company Aleph Farms in May.
It makes sense for Cargill to get into plant-based meat, which is a lucrative part of the food industry. According to statistics from the Good Food Institute, the category posted $684 million in sales in 2018, increasing 23% from the previous year. There's lots of room to grow; the segment only represented 1% of all retail meat sales in the U.S. And with nearly half of consumers having tried plant-based meat alternatives, there is a large potential audience — both to earn brand loyalty and to entice to try a product.
Cargill's enormous size and access also can help mitigate one factor that has hindered adoption of plant-based meat: High prices. So far, larger plant-based meat providers Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have charged a premium price for their products, much higher than the conventional meat they are trying to replace.
While many consumers have paid the higher prices, analysts say a lower price on meat alternatives will encourage more people to try them. Cargill doesn't need to charge higher prices in order to make money to scale or improve its supply chain. Instead, it can start on shelves and menus with lower prices, attracting more consumers from the start.
As major manufacturers crowd into the alternative meat space, it's not clear which companies will emerge victorious. Beyond Meat got a head start as the first meat-like plant-based burger brand in grocery stores, but it's now facing competition from plant-based companies including Impossible Foods, Lightlife and Before the Butcher. Food industry heavyweights such as Nestlé, Kellogg, Tyson Foods and Conagra Brands have jumped in with their own plant-based offerings. But a few things are certain: The plant-based space isn't going to slow down anytime soon, and Cargill's launch is likely to make it a major player from the beginning.