- Ozo, a new plant-based protein brand from JBS USA's division Planterra Foods, will be available in grocery stores across the United States starting in April. The product line includes Burgers, Ground, Mexican-Seasoned Ground and Italian-Style Meatballs.
- The non-GMO products are made of a blend of pea and rice protein fermented by shiitake mushrooms. They have up to 22 grams of protein per serving and contain less saturated fat than 80% lean ground beef and other leading plant-based protein brands, according to a company statement. JBS said the fermentation process makes the product easily digestible.
- The company said Ozo's items are differentiated from competitors because of their taste and ingredients. The release also said more products will be coming before the end of the year. "We recognize there are other protein offerings out there, which is why we're adamant on having strong points of difference in our products. This category needs better tasting food from real ingredients that appeals to the whole family, and we're confident that OZO products deliver," Planterra Foods CEO Darcey Macken said in the release.
JBS is one of the last meat giants to get into the plant-based space, but its roots run deep in the food supply chain. This means it will be relatively easy for the Brazilian company that owns U.S. poultry brand Pilgrim's Pride to get Ozo products onto shelves everywhere, targeting the consumers who are looking for meat alternatives.
However, Ozo and Planterra cloak their affiliation with JBS. One line at the end of the press release briefly mentions the company is owned by JBS, and there's no mention of JBS on the websites of Planterra or Ozo. Macken told Food Navigator this was so JBS could innovate in this area and take advantage of its existing supply chain and resources — but be separated enough that consumers don't associate it with the larger company.
Whether JBS's stealth move into the sector will be successful is up to consumers. Mushrooms, while a popular meat-free ingredient, aren't in many plant-based burgers. They are a featured ingredient in Hormel's Applegate Great Organic Blend Burger, which are made of meat blended with the fungus. On its face, the use of mushrooms in Ozo's plant-based meat will help the new brand stand out — though it's not clear how mushrooms will affect the taste, texture or appearance of the product.
Ozo will be giving consumers a chance to find out with its planned coast-to-coast tasting tour, starting this spring and lasting until December. The company said it will use this tour to give up to 750,000 consumers a chance to eat its products. This could help convert reluctant consumers. According to a recent study from the International Food Information Council, 51% of consumers still haven't tried plant-based meat. Bringing it to them for a free taste could reduce barriers to trying products. After all, the same study found that 3 in 10 adults tried plant-based products out of curiosity.
The plant-based meat space is incredibly lucrative and has great growth potential. 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.
With its announcement this week, it may look like JBS is behind the curve. After all, segment leaders Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have had burgers on the U.S. market for years, and Nestlé, Tyson Foods and others have entered the space with their own offerings. But this announcement comes just a week after Cargill, the world's largest private company with a large presence in both ingredients and traditional meat, announced it was jumping into plant-based protein. Cargill's products also will appear on shelves and in foodservice next month.
JBS has been in this space in its home country since last year. It debuted a plant-based patty under its Brazilian Seara brand last May. The Incrível Burger is made from soy, wheat, garlic, onions and beetroot, and the company announced in December it was launching an entire line of plant-based products, as well as a global innovation lab.
It's not clear from the outset how much — if anything — has transferred to the Northern Hemisphere from JBS's Brazilian innovations and research, though the initial product compositions seem vastly different. However, Brazil is a country known for its beef, and according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, Brazil has the sixth highest beef consumption rate per capita in the world. Clearly, JBS has been able to make its plant-based blend work there — and may be able to find similar market success in the United States.