Nearly two months after Nestlé made its debut in the increasingly crowded plant-based beef space with Awesome Grounds and Awesome Burger, the world's largest food company is bringing the ingredient to a pair of its most popular prepared offerings.
Nestlé announced Wednesday it will introduce its first U.S. products next year that use plant-based meat in items that traditionally use the animal-based option: DiGiorno Rising Crust Meatless Supreme and Stouffer’s Meatless Lasagna, both made with Sweet Earth Awesome Grounds. The products, which will start being sold online through Amazon Fresh in the spring, could eventually be located in grocery stores next to DiGiorno and Stouffer’s offerings made with meat.
"Plant-based protein, plant-based meats are going to be the future of meat, more and more," Ryan Riddle, R&D specialist of vegetarian meal solutions at Nestlé USA, told Food Dive. "I fully expect that this is just the beginning of incorporating plant-based meats into our prepared meals."
From plant-based burgers to chick’n nuggets, companies have launched a variety of new products in recent months to get a bigger presence in the alternative protein space. Growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives is projected to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030, according to investment firm UBS.
Nestlé made a major bet on the future of plant-based foods with its 2017 purchase of Sweet Earth for an undisclosed sum. According to a consumer survey commissioned by Nestlé USA, nearly half have either integrated plant-based meat into their diet or would consider doing so long term. Three in 10 who have not yet tried plant-based meat responded they would if they had the opportunity. The Nestlé survey also found 50% of consumers would be very likely to try plant-based meat if used in pizza or lasagna.
"I fully expect that this is just the beginning of incorporating plant-based meats into our prepared meals."
R&D specialist of vegetarian meal solutions, Nestlé USA
Even before Nestlé's acquisition closed, Sweet Earth's founders were working on what became the Awesome Burger, Nestlé's entrant into the hyper-competitive plant-based meat space, which first hit shelves in October. The product placed Nestlé in direct competition with CPG giants — including Hormel Foods, Tyson Foods, Conagra Brands and Kellogg — and hot upstarts Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Riddle said while hamburgers made from plants are important for Nestlé to have as a "flagship product" in its portfolio, there is a bigger opportunity for the company to expand its reach by adding the faux meat option into existing products that use animal-based proteins. Nestlé is looking to incorporate Awesome Grounds into other products where it uses ground beef, he said, as well as Sweet Earth's Mindful Chik'n, its plant-based chicken offering.
While he declined to speculate which Nestlé products might be next to be remade with plant-based meat, Riddle said these Stouffer’s and DiGiorno products are likely just the beginning as the company responds to a shift by more consumers toward plant-based foods because of health, environmental sustainability or animal welfare concerns.
In an effort to generate buzz ahead of the formal launch next year, Nestlé is giving consumers a chance to win one of a hundred of each of the new products through an online contest starting Dec. 5. Riddle said the gradual roll out with the contest, sale through Amazon Fresh and then potentially in retail will allow Nestlé to collect early feedback from consumers to gauge interest in additional meatless offerings.
"Nestlé is really investing a lot of money and making a big bet in this space, so we're always at the drawing board and continually improving," Riddle said.
Riddle said he could "definitely envision a time" when a Stouffer’s Meatless Lasagna outsells its conventional meat-based counterpart, even if it is still a way off. For now, Nestlé's goal is to have products in its portfolio to cater to consumers with different desires.
"Our job isn't to push one diet or the other onto folks," Riddle said. "Our job is to provide options to people so they can eat the way they want to eat. This launch is enabling us to do that even better than we have in the past."