- Canadian meat and plant-based giant Maple Leaf Foods signed a joint development agreement with fermented protein maker The Better Meat Co. to create potential alternative products with Better Meat’s Rhiza protein.
- Better Meat founder and CEO Paul Shapiro said in an interview the partnership came as a “natural evolution.” Maple Leaf’s large R&D team will do a lot of the experimentation and development. Shapiro said potential products could include bacon, hot dogs and chicken breasts.
- This is the second development agreement Better Meat has entered into with a large traditional meat manufacturer. Hormel’s venture arm 199 Ventures entered into a meat analog development agreement with the company in late 2021.
As the plant-based meat sector started to heat up in 2017 and 2018, many big CPGs piled into it. Acquisitions were made and new products were launched, many of which had pea, soy and wheat proteins making up the bulk of the product.
As time has gone on and consumer enthusiasm for plant-based meat has waned, manufacturers are looking at other alternatives to traditional meat products. After all, analysts have said one of the reasons consumers have become less excited about the plant-based space is because the products just don’t have enough of the taste, smell and eating experience as actual meat.
Fermentation can create a protein-filled meat analog from fungi that can naturally have a more meat-like texture and appearance. It can be flavored to taste like meat products without the need to cover up any undesirable tastes. These kinds of products are just starting to become a real market force.
Most companies that make fermented meat analogs are CPG brands themselves, but Better Meat is not. Better Meat is positioned to work with manufacturers looking for another ingredient to use to make analogs for meat, dairy and egg.
Better Meat’s Rhiza protein is made from the roots — or mycelium — of Neurospora crassa, a long-studied and fast-growing fungus. At this time, Better Meat is the only company working with Neorospora crassa mycelium for food, meaning that any manufacturer wanting to use Rhiza protein is sure to have something unique.
Maple Leaf Foods has experience in the alternative protein space.
In 2017, the Canadian meat producer jumped into the plant-based realm with two acquisitions: tempeh and veggie burger maker Lightlife and plant-based meat maker Field Roast — both of which became the company’s Greenleaf Foods division. Lightlife did the development work to bring the brand into the plant-based meat space quickly, launching burgers, ground meat, deli meat, sausages and hot dogs.
But Maple Leaf experienced a similar sales slowdown starting in late 2021 that caused problems for other plant-based meat companies. After a review of Maple Leaf’s plant-based business, the company decided to cut its size by 25% to better match the growth opportunities.
This agreement with Better Meat is the first big action Maple Leaf has taken in alternative protein since it cut back on its Greenleaf business. Shapiro said he has no doubts about Maple Leaf’s devotion to the alternative protein space; the partnership shows their commitment to it.
The agreement is focused on product development, much like Better Meat’s previous agreement with Hormel. Shapiro said there is greater demand for the Rhiza protein than the company can produce, so there will be no mass product launches until Better Meat can secure more manufacturing capacity.
Shapiro said that is in the works. Since it can take more than a year for CPG companies to even develop new products — let alone produce and market them — Shapiro said it makes sense to start working together now.
“We want to get a head start so that when we have more fermentation capacity, their product development piece will already be complete,” Shapiro said.