- Butterball, Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods Inc are all working on developing plant-based options for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, according to Reuters.
- Butterball Vice President of Research and Development and Innovation Jeff Mundt told the news service the brand will run limited tests of plant-based turkey options next Thanksgiving. Perdue Farms told Reuters there “is something in the pipeline,” and Tyson said that the company is “looking at options across protein forms.”
- Plant-based protein heavyweights Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are encouraging consumers to use beef and sausage in their Thanksgiving recipes.
The traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table has seen some change in recent years. As consumers become more concerned with the environmental ramifications of food waste and the consumption of animal protein, the 15-pound, oven-roasted turkey is no longer the only option.
Ham is another Thanksgiving classic, but according to The Washington Post, people consume about half as much ham — 24.75 million pounds of bone-in ham compared to 46 million turkeys — on the holiday. A poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation showed 95% of consumers serve turkey, while half serve both turkey and ham for the holiday.
For plant-based manufacturers looking to get on the holiday table, tackling turkey is their first priority.
Many consumers looking for tried and true options for the traditional holiday are still opting for a Tofurky. The company has been around since 1995. Inc. reported that Tofurky sales have jumped 25% year-over-year, and last year, the company said it sold a record 5 million Tofurkys. Although the Oregon-based business is privately held and does not release earnings reports, founder Seth Tibbott told Inc. in 2011 the company took in more than $14 million in the prior year.
Such growth indicates that even on a holiday where animal protein is a shining star, there is room for plant-based manufacturers to deliver an alternative to turkey.
While Tofurky remains the king of plant-based Thanksgiving main courses, there are other alternatives, including Field Roast Grain Meat Co.'s Celebration Roast with "wheat meat," otherwise known as seitan; Gardein's Holiday Roast featuring soy and wheat; Quorn's Turk'y Roast, which is soy-free but not vegan; and Vegetarian Plus' Vegan Whole Turkey, made with non-GMO soy protein.
However, as the quality of plant-based sausage and burger options improves, consumers are looking for a more realistic choice for their plant-based Thanksgiving roast. As of this Thanksgiving, there is no clear, tastes-like-the-real-thing option dominating the category. Mike Leonard, who leads research and development at plant-based food technology firm Motif FoodWorks, told Reuters that's because companies have not yet cracked the code on delivering convincing taste and texture.
Clearly, it’s not for lack of trying. Butterball, Tyson and Perdue are all eyeing the segment and looking to edge in on Tofurky’s dominance. However, consumers will have to wait until next year to get their first taste of Butterball’s alternative offering.
By then, there may be other options on the market. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two leading competitors in the plant-based space, have yet to produce anything tailored to Thanksgiving. Impossible Foods told Reuters creating a turkey alternative is one of its long term goals.
Still, creating a convincing alternative to a succulent, shreddable turkey is no small feat. Currently, many of the alternative meat products focus on favorites that take ground-up meat – burger patties and sausages. Engineering a whole bird with the nuanced textures and tastes throughout will take a different approach, but it will be one that, if successful, many consumers will be thankful for.