Planterra Foods, the U.S. plant-based subsidiary of Brazilian meat giant JBS, added a new R&D Innovation Center to its expanded headquarters in Colorado. The expansion adds 100 jobs to Planterra's headquarters, located in the Denver suburb of Lafayette.
The innovation center will test and develop new ingredients and plant-based products for Planterra, which makes the Ozo line of plant-based meat made from pea and rice protein fermented by shiitake mushrooms.
News of Planterra's new innovation center came shortly after U.K. fermented meat alternative company Quorn announced it was opening a new culinary development center in Dallas. The investments demonstrate how protein players see innovation as key to winning share in the massive U.S. market for meat alternatives.
At $1.4 billion in retail sales in 2020, according to SPINS data shared by the Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association, the U.S. market for plant-based meats is tough to ignore.
Even more attractive is the 45% growth rate the segment saw last year. For global protein giant JBS, innovation has been a key pillar of sustainable growth, CEO Gilberto Tomazoni said in its recent second-quarter 2021 earnings call. Planterra, which was established in early 2020, provides JBS an opportunity to diversify its product offer and tap into the potential of the world's largest market for plant-based proteins.
But to compete in the segment, having an R&D hub is becoming table stakes. Quorn's new culinary center contains a product development lab that will be focused on making innovative extensions to the company's portfolio of mycoprotein-based chicken alternatives. In 2018, Beyond Meat opened a 26,000-square-foot R&D center — referred to as the "Manhattan Beach Project," in a nod to the secret World War II atomic bomb lab — staffed with a team of scientists, engineers, food technologists and chefs to develop its next innovations. Most recently for Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other big CPGs in the space, the product of those brain cells and investments previewed for consumers has been plant-based chicken.
Planterra has its own R&D projects in the works. In July, the company entered a collaboration agreement with fermented ingredients maker MycoTechnology to intensify their R&D partnership, with the potential of creating unique ingredients for Planterra's products. That same month, Planterra announced several new items in its product lineup, including two frozen plant-based chicken products: breaded nuggets and patties.
For companies like Planterra, Quorn, Beyond Meat and others, there seems to be a race to crack the code of meat alternatives and win consumers' brand loyalty. In a written statement, Planterra CEO Darcey Macken underlined the company's hopes for its new R&D lab.
"With a team full of passionate, problem-solving food lovers," she said, "I'm confident that Planterra Foods will continue to grow the world of plant-based with the best-tasting foods in the market."