Perdue Farms is considering an array of plant-based protein options as potential additions to its chicken and turkey portfolio, according to Bloomberg.
This could include vegan items or products combining meat, plant-based protein and vegetables, Chairman Jim Perdue told Bloomberg. "Our vision is to be the most trusted name in premium protein," he said. "It doesn’t say premium meat protein, just premium protein. That’s where consumers are going."
Perdue also said the privately held company, founded by his grandfather in 1920, isn't interested in investing in cell-based meat products at this time.
Perdue is the latest meat and poultry producer to recognize that plant-based meat alternatives are no longer a niche alternative but a powerhouse category. According to Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of these products during the past year totaled $670 million, which is a 24% jump from the previous year. Meanwhile, sales of animal-based meats only grew about 2% during that time.
The red meat and poultry market is still well ahead of alternative proteins, though. According to CoBank figures cited by Bloomberg, sales of beef and chicken total $49 billion — but alternative proteins are forecast to grow by 17% annually to reach $863 million in 2021.
Tyson Foods' decision to take a 5% stake in plant-based food maker Beyond Meat in 2016 reflects the growing power of this segment. The meat giant increased its investment last year through its Tyson Ventures venture capital arm and also bought into Memphis Meats, a cell-cultured meat startup based in San Francisco, earlier this year. The move followed Cargill's stake in the company, which was the first investment by a traditional meat producer in the cell-cultured meat space.
Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures for Cargill Protein, said in a release that the Memphis Meats investment was a way to explore the potential of the budding protein category. "Memphis Meats has the potential to provide our customers and consumers with expanded protein choices and is aligned with our mission to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way," she said.
Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods, has said that investing in nontraditional protein sources makes sense because the world will need more protein from all sources.
"This isn't an 'either or' scenario; it’s a 'yes and' scenario," he said in a statement. "If you think about it, a protein strategy inclusive of alternative forms is intuitive for Tyson Foods. It's another step toward giving today’s consumers what they want and feeding tomorrow's consumers sustainably for years to come."
Jim Perdue appears to be thinking along the same lines, although the company's "all-of-the-above" strategy might have to focus in a bit depending on what companies or brands are for sale and how many new product lines Perdue can handle. In addition, Perdue may not have as much varied expertise on hand as a broader and more diversified company such as Cargill or Tyson Foods, so there could be a steeper learning curve when and if it takes on additional brands. Regardless, as consumers demand more protein from non-animal options and its competitors expand their presence into the space, Perdue has little choice but to move into the category.