- Nestlé is planning to debut a plant-based burger under its Garden Gourmet brand. The company will introduce its meat-free product — called the Incredible Burger — made from soy and wheat protein in the spring, according to Bloomberg.
- Laurent Freixe, CEO of Nestlé's Americas region, told Bloomberg that the company's plant-based sales could hit $1 billion within 10 years, up from a few hundred million today. Plant-based items make up about half of the company's protein sources now, including in pet food.
- The Swiss food giant is also developing other vegan proteins at its R&D center in Lausanne, Switzerland. Nestlé is also looking to introduce purple walnut milk made with blueberries and a blue latte containing spirulina algae, Bloomberg reported.
This new development complements the company's existing innovations and targets a growing consumer trend. Nestlé has been focusing more on meat alternatives since its acquisition of plant-based food maker Sweet Earth last year. Its Garden Gourmet brand already makes lentil, chickpea and quinoa kale burgers and has introduced vegetarian schnitzel, sausage and faux chicken nuggets, among other meatless products.
Paul Grimwood, Nestlé U.S. chairman and CEO, said last year that the U.S. was experiencing a "consumer shift toward plant-based proteins," and the acquisition of Sweet Earth would give the company a leading position in the increasingly popular sector.
"One of Nestle’s strategic priorities is to build out our portfolio of vegetarian and flexitarian choices in line with modern health trends," Grimwood said in a statement.
Sales of plant-based foods jumped 20% in the past year to more than $3.3 billion, according to data from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association. Plant-based meat alternatives totaled $670 million in sales — which was a 24% jump compared to 6% in 2017. Nestlé also noted that its plant-based foods segment is growing by double digits.
But Nestlé isn't the only brand to tackle this growing market so it will have competition. Impossible Foods and Beyond Foods aren't likely to welcome the arrival of a new plant-based burger from the world's largest food company. Both startups have been enjoying solid success to date with their meat-free burgers, and they can't be expected to appreciate a major rival entering the space.
That goes double for the Impossible Burger, since the Incredible Burger's name sounds similar and consumers might confuse the two. The timing is particularly poor for Impossible Burger, since the company plans for the product to enter U.S. grocery stores this year. Meanwhile, Beyond Foods has filed for a $100 million IPO, which would be a first for the new generation of companies making meat-like products from plants.
Those two plant-based food makers have attracted significant investment in recent years, but they can't begin to compete with the financial heft, R&D expertise and international distribution of Nestlé. Despite those advantages, the Swiss company is a bit late to the plant-based burger market and may have some catching up to do when its Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger hits the marketplace.
Given enough marketing and advertising, the new product could pose a serious threat to the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger if consumers find it tasty and at a comparable or lower price point. But since the Incredible Burger contains soy and wheat protein — as does the Impossible Burger — people trying to avoid those ingredients are more likely to stick with vegan protein products that don't have them. The Beyond Burger contains pea protein isolate.
As Nestlé looks to bolster its footprint in the plant-based sector, innovative products such as the purple walnut milk and blue latte may be important. Color is an important draw for consumers looking for unique items, so these new products might prove to be popular, particularly among millennials who like to experiment with interesting — and Instagram-worthy — foods and beverages.
These likely aren't the only innovations on Nestlé's drawing board, so consumers will probably see more plant-based products in the future as the company pivots to boost its bottom line and satisfy its shareholders.