Lightlife made a splash last year with the relaunch of its cleaner label burger and its challenge to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to also adopt more widely recognized ingredients in their burgers. But it wasn't the end of the company's reformulation effort.
Since the late August burger relaunch, Lightlife has been quietly reformulating all of its products to make them cleaner label and completely vegan. As of now, the company's entire portfolio — 19 different products — has been reformulated to take out ingredients that consumers may find off-putting or that came from animals. All of its items are also certified kosher and Non-GMO Project verified. Gone are ingredients including carrageenan, eggs and maltodextrin, which have been replaced by ingredients including potato starch, citrus fiber and sugar.
Dan Curtin, president of Lightlife owner Greenleaf Foods, said this is part of the company's commitment to its customers. A survey of more than 11,500 consumers conducted by Boston Consulting Group last year for Lightlife showed that they wanted to be able to better understand the ingredients deck in plant-based products. The survey inspired the burger revamp, as well as the changes announced today.
"We believe this is a huge step," Curtin said. "It's a firm statement of the commitment that we made of going to cleaner ingredients."
While Lightlife had long planned the complete portfolio revamp, Curtin said it took a bit longer than expected. It couldn't just make simple ingredient replacements, and some of them — especially carrageenan, which is a popular emulsifier — were trickier to remove than others. The company also had to maintain product integrity. While the ingredient deck is important, so is taste and quality, Curtin said.
"I think some of those things that we removed are big, big pieces to remove. Consumers, I think, are going to continue to pay more and more attention to these ingredients. People may not even know what these what these ingredients are, so we tell people to do your homework, check it out and we're here to support you."
President, Greenleaf Foods
The latest revamp is going to be promoted largely online and through social and influencer channels, Curtin said. There are no plans to target others in the plant-based meat space for their ingredients this time around, though Curtin said that promotion plan paid off. He believes that consumers appreciated that Lightlife explained what it a had done and what made it unique. There were a few detractors, he said — people who believe that all plant-based meat companies should be working together to advance the common goal of less traditional meat consumption. Curtin said he engaged with them, and that the clean label effort is what helps set Lightlife apart.
He thinks continuing the clean label effort will only make consumers respect Lightlife more.
"The proof is in the pudding," Curtin said. "...I think some of those things that we removed are big, big pieces to remove. Consumers, I think, are going to continue to pay more and more attention to these ingredients. People may not even know what these what these ingredients are, so we tell people to do your homework, check it out and
we're here to support you."
Lightlife has been paying a lot of attention to its products and consumer needs, and it is showing, Curtin said, noting that its brand awareness has tripled in the past three years. To him, this demonstrates that consumers are trying plant-based options and liking them enough to keep coming back. As the plant-based category gets more crowded, having clean labels is one way that Lightlife can stand out, he said. The brand is positioning itself as a guilt-free plant-based option that consumers can understand and know exactly what they are eating.
Lightlife, whose parent company Greenleaf Foods is owned by Canadian meat producer Maple Leaf Foods, is not against meat, Curtin said. The brand wants to give consumers options — a position strengthened through having cleaner labels, he said.
"[We are] partners with them in this — reducing our ingredients, reducing the things that are in there that are not as healthy for you. I think that's sending the right message," Curtin said. "Consumers want great-tasting products that are good for you, and finding that balance, I think, is the perfect lane Lightlife goes in."
Greenleaf Foods — through both its Lightlife and Field Roast Grains Meat brands — is working to develop more options for vegan and flexitarian consumers alike, Curtin said. Under the Field Roast banner, the company recently launched pepperoni and a stadium-style hot dog made of pea protein.
Vegan consumers, who helped make Lightlife a force when it started as a tempeh company in 1979 and many who do not want meat-like products, are still important to the brand. With a new $100 million tempeh plant in Indianapolis, Curtin said there is a lot of opportunity to expand the fermented soy product, which he believes could be "the next kombucha" thanks to its health profile and buzz.
Greenleaf also has a new innovation center outside Chicago, and Curtin said there is a lot in the works from many of the company's product lines.
"We see massive opportunities for the future, for sure," he said.