In the last decade, since Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods started working with plant proteins to create items that looked, cooked and tasted like meat, the products sparked interest in millions of consumers worldwide. New companies, new science, new ingredients and new investments helped create a vibrant segment featuring plant-based copies of everything from burgers to seafood to steak.
According to the Good Food Institute, $1.9 billion was invested in plant-based food companies in 2021, and there are more than 780 companies worldwide focused on plant-based food.
But that doesn’t mean the segment is on its way out. Investment dollars and innovations are strong in the space, and many of the entrepreneurs involved are digging in their heels to create products that better meet more consumer needs. Big Food is still getting involved in the space, using its funds and influence to improve products through R&D and put them on more store shelves and restaurant menus. Several scientific studies have also shown plant-based meat is a way to much more sustainably provide consumers the types of products they enjoy.
This trendline looks at some of the latest developments in the plant-based meat space, ranging from innovations and innovators to studies that show the segment’s impact on the food system. These include:
A look at how price parity with animal meat could impact plant-based sales.
Interviews with up-and-coming companies bringing new ingredients and processes to plant-based meat.
Why established food companies find plant-based meat important.
Consideration of infrastructure and supply needs for future plant-based meat demand.
Comparison of emissions reduction between plant-based meat and other common climate mitigation measures, including decarbonization at power plants.
Discussions with plant-based meat companies and analysts about how to get the segment back to growth.
These are just a few topics about plant-based meat today. We hope you enjoy this deep dive into the trend.
Plant-based price parity will lead to exponential growth, study finds
By: Megan Poinski• Published March 24, 2022
Once plant-based meat reaches price parity with the animal-derived variety, its market share will grow exponentially, according to a study from Kearney.
According to an analysis from agricultural economist Jayson Lusk, every 1% drop in price for plant-based patties leads to a 3% increase in market share.
Price parity isn't all that far away, Kearney analysts said. Many plant-based meat makers are close to paying off their start-up R&D costs, and some of the larger companies are instituting across-the-board price reductions. At the same time, traditional animal meat is getting more expensive because of inflation — something Kearney said hasn't happened so much to plant-based analogs.
Plant-based meat was a hot category with consistently growing sales through the first half of 2021, but sales have cooled considerably in the past six months. Publicly traded Beyond Meat and Maple Leaf Foods, parent company of Greenleaf Foods, both recently reported flat or negative growth in the segment.
This report brings a piece of good news to the plant-based meat sector: Despite recent slowdowns, serious growth may be around the corner. And unlike before, when the segment was relatively small and massive growth rates were easier to achieve, this expansion could actually make a serious dent in the meat industry.
It's all a matter of price, Kearney's report says. The management consulting firm found that three-quarters of consumers were likely to purchase plant-based products in the next year, with four in 10 saying they were very likely to buy them. The remaining 25% had two big reasons they didn't want to buy the products: They don't taste good and they're too expensive. More than half — 53% — said price is a limiting factor.
Plant-based meat companies have been working hard toward getting to price parity. In 2021, Impossible Foods slashed its recommended grocery store prices by a fifth. The company also had two 15% price cuts for foodservice distributors in 2020 and 2021. Company President Dennis Woodside said in a blog post at the time of the grocery store price cut that Impossible always had the goal of driving down production costs as the company scales — and then being able to price its products cheaper than the meat they mimic. As people buy more Impossible Burgers, Woodside wrote, it fuels a "virtuous cycle" so they cost less to everyone.
The other giant in plant-based meat, Beyond Meat, is also making efforts toward price parity. The company set a goal to get at least one of its products there by 2024, and CEO Ethan Brown said last month in Beyond Meat's most recent earnings call that it was well on its way. New processes and R&D had helped lower input prices in the last year, he said, and more is coming.
The implications of players like Impossible and Beyond Meat hitting price parity are huge: If plant-based and traditional meat cost the same, Kearney estimated, plant-based patties could have a 10% market share for beef, and 22% for all animal protein.
Other consultants and investors also see price parity on the horizon. A 2021 report from investment firm Blue Horizon Corporation and Boston Consulting Group sees plant-based products reaching parity in 2023 — something that will speed mass adoption of the segment. The report estimates that at least 11% of all protein consumed in 2035 will be alternatives. With the right regulatory and government support, the report predicts meat consumption in the U.S. and Europe could actually start declining after 2025.
Regardless of what is happening in the plant-based meat sector, animal meat prices have also been rising, which acts to speed the drive to price parity as well. Supply chain, weather, inflation and personnel shortages have all come together to inch up the price of meat. According to statistics kept by the USDA, the price of a pound of ground beef has gone up 76 cents — or about 21% — between February 2020 and February 2022. Although a recent study commissioned by Ingredient Communications found that consumers would be willing to accept price increases of 50.6% before they stopped buying meat, decreasing costs for plant-based meats may erode this limit.
Article top image credit: Catherine Douglas Moran/Food Dive
Tindle's new take on plant-based chicken gets ready for its US debut
In its first year and a half, Singapore-based Next Gen Foods raised $30 million for its clean-label and culinary-friendly poultry analog, and plans for this to eventually be its largest market.
By: Megan Poinski• Published Dec. 8, 2021
Plant-based chicken products usually look exactly like the product they are intended to replicate. Plant-based chicken nuggets blend in with ones made from meat. Plant-based shredded chicken is a tangle of fibers that looks like long-cooked and ripped apart meat. And plant-based chicken chunks look like sliced and cooked meat.
But then there's Tindle. The clean label plant-based meat from Singapore-based Next Gen Foods can be hand-molded into different shapes.
"It's really a play-dough," said Andre Menezes, co-founder and CEO of Next Gen Foods. "It comes frozen, so once it's thawed, chefs can do whatever they want. They can shape it on a skewer, as schnitzel, as a sandwich, as nuggets."
Tindle has seen huge growth in just over a year. Next Gen Foods was founded in April 2020 by Menezes, previously the general manager of Country Foods Singapore, and TimoRecker, creator of Germany's plant-based LikeMeat brand, which was bought by The Live Kindly Collective.In February, Next Gen broke fundraising records with a $10 million seed round, which is the largest for such an early stage plant-based company. Tindle launched in restaurants Singapore in March, and has since expanded to foodservice in Hong Kong, Macau and the United Arab Emirates. In November, it launched in restaurants in Amsterdam.
In 2022, Tindle is debuting in the United States. The company made its intentions known in July 2021, as Next Gen Foods announced a $20 million extension to its seed round, boosting its funding total to $30 million. In October 2021, Menezes came to the United States to meet with chefs and preview Tindle at the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival. At the time, he said the goal was to have Tindle available here on menus in early 2022.
"We've been able to do in six months what other companies — even the most well-seeded companies in the world — maybe [it] took them six to seven years," Menezes said.
What is Tindle?
Despite Menezes' fanciful description, Tindle is not just modeling clay. Made out of nine ingredients, it's a non-GMO, zero-cholesterol chicken analog with 17 grams of protein and only 120 calories per serving, according to the company. Menezes said they made Tindle as close to chicken as possible from a nutritional standpoint.
But the product is a step beyond most plant-based meat in its form and function.
"We have freed ourselves from the notion that we needed to mimic a chicken in every single step," Menezes said. "We went to understand what people really liked about chicken, and from there we designed the product. We needed a product that was fibrous. We needed a product that tasted like chicken and had that fatty chicken smell that comes from the chicken fat. And we need a product that was versatile, but then we took that versatility to another different layer and we upgraded. What you can do with Tindle, you cannot even do with chicken."
Menezes said that chefs have basic instructions on how to use Tindle, but they bring their creativity and seem to always be discovering new ways to use the meat analog. He said chefs are teaching them quite a bit about how to use it, turning it into skewers, shreds and fillets.
Tindle has two concepts at its core. It's clean label — made with ingredients that the average consumer would recognize — and it's said to be more sustainable than traditional meat. Its only ingredients are water; texturized soy, wheat gluten and wheat starch proteins; and coconut oil, methylcellulose, oat fiber and a proprietary ingredient called Lipi.
While Lipi has a unique name, Menezes said it's a distinctive blend of sunflower oil and natural flavorings. It not only brings a chicken-like flavor to the product, but it also provides the kind of fatty texture consumers expect from the meat, he said. Unlike plant-based ground meat products, you cannot put small bits of fat throughout a chicken analog, he noted.
"We have developed that emulsion [so] that when we are producing the product, it goes within the fibers and it blends very nicely in," he said. "So at the surface, it browns very well, but ... it's kept inside so when you fry it, when you cook it, it's moist and it's juicy."
While Tindle bills itself as a tasty plant-based chicken option that can be used both in high-end cuisine as well as simple applications, its sustainable promise also goes deep. The name Tindle, Menezes said, actually is a play on the name of Irish physicist John Tyndall, who discovered and explained the greenhouse effect.
"The whole reason for our existence is sustainability and actually to minimize the greenhouse gas effect and climate change," Menezes said.
Coming to US menus soon
Since Tindle was created, Menezes said the company has wanted to expand to the United States. The U.S. is one of the world's largest for meat in general, he said, as well as for all kinds of cuisine. Menezes thinks the U.S. will soon be Tindle's largest market, and the company is currently building its U.S. offices and presence.
"We don't see the U.S. as being just another market," Menezes said. "We want to be perceived by our consumers and business partners as being a truly American company for the American market."
The current global supply chain crunch is not really hurting Tindle, he said. Farmers raising chickens need to get feed and supplies to their livestock, then the chickens themselves need to be carefully transported. There aren't anywhere near as many links in the supply chain for Tindle, even though there is currently only one factory in the Netherlands that makes it, Menezes said. Tindle has its inputs, it operates its factory, and products go directly where they need to be.
Right now, Tindle is a bit more expensive to produce than meat, though Menezes said that adding more manufacturing infrastructure — including an eventual production facility in the United States — should bring that cost down. And while the company is currently targeting restaurants and chefs, Menezes said Tindle will someday be available in CPG form.
Menezes sees Tindle — and all of Next Gen Foods, for that matter — continuing its growth trajectory in the next several years. The pioneers in the plant-based meat space have proven that consumers don't need to feel they are sacrificing when they opt for analogs. Menezes said he's a meat lover, but he hasn't had a beef burger since 2019 because he's been satisfied with alternatives. Tindle is building on their work, he said, and further showing that a plant-based diet can be one to enjoy and savor.
Next Gen Foods has created several prototypes for more plant-based products, including seafood, beef and dairy. Menezes isn't sure what the company will dive into next — it will depend on the markets and the tech, as well as sustainability needs. But right now, he said, building and expanding Tindle is the company's top priority.
"Our next six months will be definitely very busy. I have no doubt of that," Menezes said.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Next Gen Foods
Creating plant-based meat alternatives that even carnivores can crave
Choosing a plant-based meat alternative is no longer an alternative, it's becoming the mainstream choice. But if this dynamic category aims to please all consumers it has to deliver the qualities they crave. The right ingredients for the job just might surprise you.
Even in a nation of inveterate meat eaters, plant-based products are putting down serious roots.
In the United States alone, plant-based foods represent a $7 billion market, according to the Good Food Institute and SPINS, with their grocery sales growing at nearly twice the rate of food sales overall.
And when you drill into the data specific to plant-based meat alternatives, the picture looks even rosier: Plant-based meat alternatives' market value hit $1.4 billion in 2020, with more than 290 million units sold.
Such sales would be unimaginable absent the interest of curious carnivores. After all, 98% of plant-based meat alternative purchasers in the U.S. also purchase traditional meat, Nielsen found.
Yet as plant-based meat alternatives attract more mainstream trials — and as options expand beyond burgers to whole-muscle and seafood options — products have to work that much harder to meet mainstream expectations. And as Dr. Joe Formanek, Director of Ingredient Innovation at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition, pointed out, that's no mean feat.
"Crucial success factors going forward will be improving the taste and texture of plant-based meat alternatives, and price parity with animal meat," Formanek says.
Formulators need ingredients that multitask, building savory flavor and mouth-filling richness without contributing excess sodium or unfavorable texture. Fortunately, those ingredients are already at hand, and they're creating plant-based products so delicious no one misses the meat.
Marketing to the mainstream
It's hard to overestimate just how significant the plant-based market has become. Companies ranging from food startups to top CPG brands have made innovating in the space their product-development equivalent of a moonshot: worth every effort and any expense.
"Even the most liberal surveys place the U.S. vegetarian and vegan population at 5% and 3% respectively, tops," Hirotoki Takemasa, Associate Manager of Marketing & Data Analysis at Ajinomoto, noted. That being the case, plant-based meat alternatives' growth stems at least in part from an "aggressive marketing push toward flexitarians and meat eaters."
"What's also different today," Takemasa continued, "is the higher exposure consumers have to these products at both retail and food service. We've seen the success of alternative dairy in the food service space, and for many, that was their first exposure to these products. A similar story is now playing out for plant-based meat alternatives."
No wonder, then, that according to Datassential, a foodservice research firm, vegan offerings are growing at a healthy 20% compound annual rate, with vegetarian items — already on 44% of all restaurant menus, Takemasa noted — continuing to grow at 1.5%. "Acceptance is directly correlated with exposure," Takemasa said, "so these statistics are very promising."
Plant-based bumper crop
Another promising statistic: Ajinomoto's 2021 survey research found that two-thirds of those who'd tried plant-based meat alternatives in the past year were actually meat eaters or flexitarians. "Surprisingly," Takemasa said, "this was true regardless of whether the product was a new plant-based meat alternative or a traditional veggie burger."
That said, Takemasa conceded, "we've come a long way from tofu turkey and bean burgers. Today's consumers simply have so many more choices."
Thanks to a technology boom in this arena, novel plant-based proteins are proving economically viable for formulation use. Brands today are turning not just to established options, such as soy, but also to proteins made from pea, mung bean, oat, hemp and more.
The market has also witnessed an efflorescence of plant-based meat alternatives. "As appetites grow for different meat types and formats," Takemasa observed, "consumers are shopping for plant-based chicken, pork and seafood in addition to plant-based beef."
Raising the bar
But with more plant proteins and platforms to choose from, the category's patrons have more options to turn to if their first choice doesn't meet their standards. And make no mistake: Contemporary consumers hold plant-based meat alternatives to high standards.
"The consumer is looking for a complete experience with these new products, from start to finish," Formanek said. "Many aren't willing to compromise taste or texture, and now even how a product cooks is coming under scrutiny."
Ajinomoto's research found that whether they're frequent or occasional consumers, plant-based purchasers uniformly cited taste as their top driver. If only achieving mainstream meaty appeal in plant-based products weren't such a tricky proposition.
The plant-based challenge
Why the challenge? Because "plant proteins are intrinsically different from meat proteins," Formanek explained.
First, their inherent tastes and aromas differ from animal meat's and "are often considered off-putting compared to animal proteins, requiring companies to formulate with masking technologies," Formanek said.
Moreover, plant and animal amino acid and lipid profiles diverge markedly, producing unique flavors and interacting differently when exposed to heat. Physical changes, such as protein denaturation and cross-linking, proceed differently in the two systems, yielding textures in plant-based products that don't reliably match those of their animal-based counterparts.
"Consumers want a product that handles the same as its animal-based model," Formanek conceded, "which means that a plant-based burger should generate the same aromas and flavors and develop the same cooked appearance and feel as the original. This is where food science comes into play, and where an understanding of the ingredients that deliver these qualities is essential."
Leveraging umami and kokumi
On the taste and flavor fronts, Chris Koetke, Ajinomoto's Corporate Executive Chef, praised ingredients that generate umami and kokumi— "both important characteristics when designing the best plant-based meat alternatives."
Besides being the fifth taste — umami literally means "essence of deliciousness" in Japanese — umami enhances the savory flavors consumers crave in plant-based meat alternatives. "Delivering umami is easy using ingredients like monosodium glutamate, or MSG," Koetke said, "as well as monopotassium glutamate, yeast extracts, such as Ajinomoto's Savorboost™ UM and other amino acids."
Kokumi — which isn't a taste, per se, but a multifaceted sensory phenomenon that Ajinomoto scientists have been investigating for decades — embodies the richness and complexity of meat's mouthfeel, a quality often lacking in plant-based alternatives.
Koetke called yeast extracts in the Savorboost™ line, such as Savorboost™ K and Savorboost™ BK, "wonderful platforms for delivering this all-important meaty mouthfeel. Savorboost™ BK even delivers a roasted-meat note that complements cooked profiles in plant-based products to make them more meat-like, as well."
Something to chew on
To overcome the textural issues common in plant-based meat analogs — such as lack of a meaty bite — Formanek recommends the use of enzymes that can help deliver desirable textural attributes to the system.
Enzymes in Ajinomoto's ACTIVA® line, also known as transglutaminase (TG), help correct textural drawbacks in plant-based meat alternatives by forming covalent bonds between the amino acids glutamine and lysine. These covalent bonds, which are stable during both freeze/thaw cycling as well as cooking processes, give plant-based products a stronger bite and chew resembling what emerges in cooked meat.
Even better, Ajinomoto produces its ACTIVA®; enzymes via fermentation by the GMO-free bacterium Streptomyces mobaraensis. After isolating and purifying the enzymes from the culture medium, what's left is a natural ingredient with no microbial contamination. Ajinomoto's ACTIVA®; line is also the only FDA GRAS-approved transglutaminase available in the United States.
Never neglect nutrition
That's an asset at a time when food safety and transparency are paramount. And as Tia Rains, PhD, Ajinomoto's Vice President of Customer Engagement, added, "Even though taste is king for plant-based meat alternative consumers, those same consumers are also quite savvy about nutrition."
Surveys suggest that roughly one in three ranks high sodium their top nutritional concern vis-à-vis plant-based protein products. But simply slashing sodium levels risks compromising product taste and flavor.
Enter umami and kokumi ingredients, which once again offer a solution.
MSG, for instance, enhances flavor much as salt does, allowing for sodium reduction. Meanwhile, kokumi ingredients, such as Savorboost™ K, enhance the perception of sodium, Dr. Rains said, "making a product taste as if it has more sodium than it actually does while also delivering appreciable richness and body."
Now's the time
Brands needn't shy away from these tools, even in today's clean-label era and in a clean-and-green category such as plant-based meat alternatives.
Ajinomoto research found that a majority of consumers were favorable or neutral toward amino acids, enzymes, yeast and yeast extracts, with most agreeing that the ingredients would either have no effect on their choices or make them more likely to eat plant-based meat alternatives.
And though they viewed MSG less favorably, those perceptions varied significantly by consumption frequency and age.
"MSG is extremely well-positioned to make a comeback with younger consumers," said Rains, who also leads Ajinomoto's Global Umami Project. This project focuses on dispelling myths around MSG in North America, while also educating about the ingredient's science-based safety and sodium-reduction capabilities. "The old 'Chinese restaurant syndrome' has been conclusively debunked and comes off as outdated and perhaps even racist to younger generations."
As for notions that MSG is a "chemical," the presence of free glutamates in "natural" foods "paints a positive story for millennials," Rains insisted — "a story of redemption for an ingredient unfairly maligned by older generations."
And that's a story today's plant-based consumers need to hear. As Rains said, "We've successfully shifted that perception of MSG in roughly 12 million Americans through our Know MSG campaign. The trends are in our favor."
In an increasingly saturated plant-based market that's tightening the focus on nutrition labels while also raising standards for taste and texture, working with an ingredient supplier that understands how to deliver on all of the above is an asset to have in the toolbox. As Formanek said, "At Ajinomoto, we've dedicated a lot of effort and innovative rigor to creating ingredients that let plant-based meats compete with their 'real' models. And when you think about where this category is headed, that's a really exciting place for us — and for consumers — to be."
Article top image credit: Natissima via Getty Images
Plant-based ingredients need $27B in infrastructure investments to meet 2030 demand, report says
By: Megan Poinski• Published Jan. 27, 2022
If plant-based meat alternatives continue to expand at their current rate, they will represent 6% of total meat consumption by 2030 — which means that manufacturers will need to produce 25 million metric tons of the products per year to meet demand, according to an analysis by The Good Food Institute.
The report projects that to get there, the world would need at least 800 extrusion factories, each of which is able to produce at least 30,000 metric tons of extruded protein product per year, representing a total investment of $27 billion.
The report projects significant supply crunches for common ingredients in plant-based food to meet the hypothetical 2030 demand: 16% of the global supply of coconut oil will be needed, 34% of total pea production, 10 times the projected global supply of enriched pea protein, and 2% of total soy production — but three times the projected global supply of soy protein concentrate.
A detailed analysis like this has the ability to help farmers, ingredient producers and plant-based manufacturers see in advance where supply chain weaknesses may present themselves, and make changes before these problems hamper progress and sales.
The plant-based segment's continued growth relies not only on consumers choosing alternatives more often, but also on the raw materials, manufacturing facilities and supply chain to get it to them. And without taking a careful look at ingredient supplies and processing capabilities, plant-based meat makers run the risk of finding the point at which they cannot create ample supply to meet demand.
The numbers in GFI's new report seem daunting, considering the massive expansions that would be needed industrywide in order to meet demand. But they provide a basic roadmap for what lies ahead, and in enough time that producers, ingredient providers and manufacturers and investors can begin to prepare for the future.
The analysis essentially looks at all of the plant-based meat products available today through the lens of what would be needed if the same products in the market today kept growing at the current rate. According to the analysis, 62% of products are wheat and soy based, 16% are pea based and 14% are soy based. This is relatively good news — wheat and soy are both already produced on a massive scale, and the report estimates that just 2% of global production of both soy and wheat will be needed for plant-based meat.
But pea protein, on the other hand, may pose supply and cost problems. Only 28% of the the pea is protein, meaning there are many byproducts — primarily starches — that aren't used. Because it takes a larger amount of peas to make a smaller amount of protein, commodity prices of peas are relatively volatile, the report says. And more facilities are needed to process peas into extruded proteins that can be made into meat analogs. Discovering a market on which to sell the pea starches and investing in processing facilities now can help stabilize pea prices in the future, cementing the round legume's popularity in plant-based meat, according to the report.
Ingredient processing is also a pain point that could make itself much more evident. However, the report points out, the estimates for what would be needed on the processing equipment and facility side — aspects such as land acquisition, number of extruding machines and utility needs — are based in the products and processes that exist now.
From a product standpoint, in a fast-developing field like plant-based meat — it's been seven years since Beyond Burgers were introduced and six years since Impossible Burgers first appeared on restaurant menus — eight years can seem like an eternity. While there will surely be new innovations, products and processes for the plant-based sector by 2030, the incumbent industry can use the lead time to prepare for them.
Article top image credit: Catherine Douglas Moran/Food Dive
Tender raises $12M to make more realistic plant-based meat
After its beginnings creating scaffolding for cultivated meat, the company is now spinning plant fibers like cotton candy to develop analogs that have a more similar texture to animal meat.
By: Megan Poinski• Published March 15, 2022
When Christophe Chantre and fellow scientists at Harvard University published a paper on using gelatin to create scaffolding for cell-based meat in 2019, it immediately attracted a lot of attention.
It generated thoughtful discussion within the industry about the need for an edible and indiscernible structure in which to grow the cells for cultured meat. And Chantre found himself fielding some unexpected calls.While the research solely dealt with cell-based meat, he was hearing from plant-based meat makers — both at startups and Big Food. These companies wanted to know if something similar could be done for plant-based meat, since attempts to make something more structural for plant-based whole cuts had failed.
"We thought it was potentially possible, but I think getting all this interest from these billion-dollar companies as opposed to a cash-constrained startup was very exciting for us," Chantre said. "And we decided essentially to slightly pivot to first focus on plant based."
With that pivot, Tender was born. Chantre became CEO and his research partners Grant Gonzalez, Kevin Kit Parker and Luke MacQueen also took founding positions.
Since then, the company has been focused on perfecting its technology, gaining exposure at industry pitch events and raising funds. In March 2022, Tender announced it closed a $12 million seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital. Other investors include its pre-seed round leader Rhapsody Venture Partners, actress Natalie Portman, Safar Partners, Bread and Butter Ventures, MCJ Collective and Unovis.
A tricky problem to solve
As Chantre started the company and refocused its aims, he clearly knew the problem he was trying to solve.
What he didn't know was how, exactly to solve it. After all, cell-based and plant-based meats are two very different things. While cell-based meat is formed by growing living cells in bioreactors, plant-based meat usually starts with extruded plant proteins. Extrusion, a process by which ingredients are reformed into different shapes and textures, was first invented in the 1930s and has been widely used in food processing in general. And while extrusion has undergone significant technical improvements, especially as the plant-based meat space has taken off, the process still results in a physical ingredient.
Chantre said he and his team spent about a year looking for solutions. They developed a process similar to the one they had used to create cell-based meat scaffolding out of gelatin.
"Essentially, we've developed fiber manufacturing platforms," Chantre said. "They kind of look like a cotton candy machine, and so they allow us to create fibers."
What Tender does is take plant protein mixes — including soy proteins, dietary fibers or other carbohydrates — and mix them into a solution. This solution then is spun at rapid speed into hair-width fibers. These fibers are then organized like a fibrous muscle tissue, on which fats and flavoring can be added. Basically, he said, the company is making the same sorts of fibers it created for scaffolding, but is using them as muscle fibers instead of a structure for growth.
The end result from this technology is a whole cut that behaves much more like meat than others on the market. Tender has a video it readily shares of someone digging their fingers into a plant-based pork tender the company created, audibly amazed at the realistic fibers.
The prototypes that Tender is creating are similar to some of the next-generation whole-cut plant-based meat on the market today, but not quite the same. Products currently on the market from MorningStar Farms and Gardein use high-moisture extrusion.
Other manufacturers' product "resembles a dense protein kind of slab," Chantre said. "...Muscle or meat, it's independent fibers, muscle fibers that are kind of bundled together. Whereas there [in other manufacturers' products], it's kind of the opposite. You have like a chunk of of pea protein that has some kind of striations in it, and maybe when you peel it apart, that does look a little bit fibrous. It's not enough, honestly."
"We realized that it was probably just easier at this point to launch products ourselves first. To get some consumer feedback and a couple things to improve," Chantre said. "...I think we realized that [other companies are] not going to do this work for us. They're interested — and we've talked to all these companies — but they kind of want to see you scale and have some kind of consumer traction before you go into meaningful discussions."
Chantre said Tender is looking at a few pilot tests in restaurants at the end of this year, and a more formalized launch in 2023.The company's current capacity is several pounds per hour, he said, but it is only working in R&D-sized facilities at this point.
Plant-based is an exciting area in which to work, with much faster product development and iteration, Chantre said. There is no waiting for cells to grow in order to see how well a particular solution has worked. The scientific equipment is also less expensive — there are no bioreactors, culture media or cells required. Chantre described working in plant-based meat as a material science problem, where the challenges have more to do with what kinds of inputs and ingredients lead to the best outputs.
"We make solutions in the morning, and we're making products in the afternoon, and we can just taste it in the evening, and then we can start over the next day."
However, Chantre said, he is willing for the company to eventually pivot back to the cell-based meat segment. Tender has received a $256,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop gelatin scaffolding for cell-based meat. Chantre said mastering the concept of fiber creation can make it easy for the company to do both somewhere down the line.
"It's more just a matter of changing the fiber size," Chantre said. "So if we want to make a scaffold for cell-based, we just make smaller fibers and cells will grow into it. If we want to do plant-based, we just make the fiber the size of the actual muscle fiber."
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Tender
How plant-based Skinny Butcher aims to capture both retail and foodservice markets
The brand is supported by the manufacturing might of Golden West Food Group, the ghost kitchen reach of Wow Bao, a $10 million VC investment for marketing and the enthusiasm of CEO Dave Zilko.
By: Megan Poinski• Published March 22, 2022
There's an old saying: Never trust a skinny chef. But with Dave Zilko's newest venture, he hopes consumers everywhere will be trusting — and tasting — Skinny Butcher.
The former vice chairman of Garden Fresh Gourmet has spent several years preparing his next act: a plant-based meat company that is launching this spring simultaneously at retail and in foodservice. In months, he hopes, Skinny Butcher is going to quickly go from a brand nobody has heard of to a preferred plant-based meat selection.
"We have specifically designed Skinny Butcher to have a longer-lasting message three, five, seven years from now, when this is really going to be accepted in the American vernacular and in the American culture," Zilko, Skinny Butcher's CEO, said in a mid-March interview. "We personally think that Skinny Butcher is just going to have longer legs [than other plant-based meat brands]. ...We want to win on branding, we want to win on flavor profile. I'm thrilled by the response. We're literally going to market right now."
It sounds like a crazy plan, but Zilko is well prepared. He's known for his work building Garden Fresh Gourmet into a $100 million fresh dips brand with business partner Jack Aronson, and then selling it to Campbell Soup for $231 million in 2015. Zilko built the Skinny Butcher brand with Aronson until his death last August. He called on both his savvy and connections in an effort to make Skinny Butcher, which is hitting the market with its plant-based Crazy Crispy Chick'n nuggets and patties, a stealth behemoth.
"We personally think that Skinny Butcher is just going to have longer legs [than other plant-based meat brands]. ...We want to win on branding, we want to win flavor profile. I'm thrilled by the response. We're literally going to market right now."
CEO, Skinny Butcher
Manufacturer Golden West Food Group is an equity partner in the company. Venture capital firm Valor Equity Partners' food and retail tech arm, Valor Siren Ventures, invested $10 million in Skinny Butcher. Zilko plans to use these funds as the brand's starting marketing budget.
Valor also introduced Zilko to Geoff Alexander, CEO of ghost kitchen chain Wow Bao, which has 650 takeout-only locations nationwide and was originated by restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Wow Bao worked with the restaurant group to devise a menu for Skinny Butcher, Alexander said, and then partnered with ghost kitchen provider Reef to launch Skinny Butcher's Crazy Crispy Chick'n as a virtual restaurant.
On top of all of this, Zilko has many deep connections with retailers and distributors, all of which pave the way for him to get meetings with the right people who can help him get his brand on store shelves.
"We're trying to go national right off the bat," Zilko said. "We think we've got an instantly iconic brand. We think we're winning on flavor profile. We've got a national sales and distribution force in place, thanks to our partnership with Golden West. And then we're strategically differentiating with our Crazy Crispy format. In addition to that, we've got a fully funded multimillion-dollar trade social digital marketing campaign."
Breaking into a crowded category in a big way
After selling Garden Fresh Gourmet to Campbell Soup, Zilko kept a toe in food and beverage. Since 2015, he wrote a book about how he built the Garden Fresh business, and has worked with both private equity firm Huron Capital and Fuel Leadership LLC, a leadership skills training entity.
But Zilko said he and Aronson were both looking to get back into the business. They were both interested in using food to promote sustainability, and they also wanted to use products to push a more humane approach to animals. And plant-based has been gaining quite a bit of steam.
"[We were attracted to] the enterprise value creation potential here because of how big this category has the potential to be," Zilko said. "About 15% of milk right now is plant based in this country. Experts believe that between now and maybe 10, 15, 20 years, about 25% of U.S. meat consumption will switch to plant based, so it's a big opportunity in a big space."
Although plant-based meat as a category seems to have lost quite a bit of its momentum and sales during the past six months, Zilko said he is not worried about getting into this area right now. For sustainability reasons, he said, consumers truly need to change their food choices to be more plant-based. But deeper than that, there are plant-based meat brands that aren't really that good, Zilko said. A consumer trying one of those products — which he said may have been rushed to the market in order to capitalize on the trend — may be turned off on the entire segment. Skinny Butcher has been working hard to create products that have a top-quality flavor profile, one that Zilko thinks can easily win the category.
Zilko said he's been here before. Garden Fresh Gourmet was essentially born out of a thrown-together salsa recipe from a couple of guys in Detroit — not exactly something that sounds like a market winner based on outward appearances. And as Garden Fresh Gourmet expanded into other products, including hummus, people didn't think the brand would be successful. History shows otherwise.
"I'm not afraid to jump into a crowded arena with the best product, and we think we've done that — winning on branding, winning on flavor profile," Zilko said. "And I do think the wind, long-term, is at our backs in this category. You've just got to get in the arena. You've got to compete."
Skinny Butcher will eventually have a suite of chicken, turkey and seafood analogs on the market. At the heart of the company's products is a premium pea protein from Italy, Zilko said — something he doesn't think any other U.S. plant-based brand uses. All of the products are also soy-free.
"I'm not afraid to jump into a crowded arena with the best product, and we think we've done that — winning on branding, winning on flavor profile. And I do think the wind, long-term, is at our backs in this category."
CEO, Skinny Butcher
The line is starting out with its plant-based chicken, and Zilko said the brand needed something that would set it apart from other nuggets out there — both animal-based chicken nuggets and others in the plant-based arena. He worked with Golden West to create a breading and seasoning the brand calls Crazy Crispy. This seasoning blend, he said, is closer to some of the premium breadings on QSR chicken offerings.
Zilko said that the products that are launching now are well differentiated from others on shelves and menus. A warehouse chain buyer, he said, remarked that there wasn't even a product like Skinny Butcher's Crazy Crispy breading available on actual chicken. The brand has won several internal taste tests at retailers, Zilko said, and he's confident that consumers will also see the difference.
In terms of the foodservice launch, Zilko said that there's a slate of different kinds of menu items that Skinny Butcher is making available — but it doesn't need a wide array of products. They include plant-based chicken sandwiches — which can be spicy or prepared in different ways — and nuggets and tenders that also have a variety of preparations.
Trusted branding and leaning into sustainability
Zilko, who specializes in marketing, said that he wanted his new plant-based items to have fun and retro branding, as well as something consumers will believe. That's why he chose a butcher: A mainstay of food shopping, it is among the most trusted figures to consumers, he said.
The winking pop-art style butcher on Skinny Butcher's branding, Zilko said, quickly communicates that this plant-based food is so good, even the butcher likes it. And the butcher can easily be modified for different products — wearing a captain's hat for the company's seafood line, with a red, sweaty and sizzling face for spicy products, and donningapilgrim-style hat for turkey-style products.
"We're speaking of flavor profile in a fun way that's designed to put a smile on their face, all part of the brand personality," Zilko said.
Theplant-based branding for Skinny Butcher is not "hitting people over the head with a two-by-four," like Zilko said some other plant-based meat brands do nowadays. More fun branding — that still indicates the products are plant-based — will help Skinny Butcher gain more acceptance among consumers, especially those who are flexitarians and interested in helping the environment through their diets.
While Skinny Butcher's plant-based message is more subtle, the back of the package talks about the sustainability aspects of the products. Zilko sees Skinny Butcher's primary competitors as other plant-based meat companies, but the sustainability factor makes the choice of meat alternatives over traditional animal products more of a no-brainer. Skinny Butcher's products are at a price point similar to others in the plant-based sector — a bit more expensive than meat, but still affordable — and Zilko feels that the whole message on-pack and the taste premium will make the products more desirable to all consumers.
"If you take a Crazy Crispy Chick'n nugget and you compare it against a real chicken nugget — an animal protein nugget — there is the same amount of fat, same amount of calories, same amount of cholesterol, same protein, same sodium," Zilko said. "In terms of the product attributes, they're virtually similar, but in terms of the flavor profile, which really matters, you really have to be concentrating to tell which is which. There is no trade off in flavor, and we're really proud of that."
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Skinny Butcher
Nestlé sees green in plant-based business despite category slowdown
While the segment got overheated during the pandemic, a top executive said it remains a “strong consumer trend” and one the global food giant will continue to invest in.
By: Christopher Doering• Published Oct. 11, 2022
Nestlé executives said plant-based food and beverage offerings will remain an "extremely important" part of the CPG giant’s business despite a slowdown in growth for the broader category.
“The trend of plant based in general is still a really strong consumer trend but I think it got a bit frenzied,” Steve Presley, CEO of Nestlé’s North American business, said in an interview. “I don't think you'll see a massive migration to vegetarian or vegan but maybe this idea of one or two days [a week] that are meatless.”
The previously fast-growing segment saw sales growth flatten in 2021 after surging 45% a year earlier, according to statistics from SPINS, the Plant-Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. The study found six out of 10 U.S. households regularly purchase plant-based foods, and 79% of consumers bought products in the category at least twice.
Still, the slowdown has hit several companies in the space particularly hard.
For its part, Nestlé entered plant based in a big way in 2017 with its acquisition of Sweet Earth. While plant-based foods and beverages are a small part of the $90.6 billion in sales Nestlé recorded globally last year, it’s a key area of growth for the company.
Since Nestlé purchased Sweet Earth, the company has expanded the plant-based brand into new categories like chicken, beef and deli meats to give consumers cutting back on animal-based products or forgoing them altogether more options.
The brand got “minimized” during parts of COVID-19 as Nestlé focused on capacity constraints and meeting the demand for some of its larger offerings like Stouffers, Presley said. Nestléestimates roughly 22 million people are looking for the types of products made by Sweet Earth.
But during the pandemic, “we've really taken the opportunity to go hard at every single recipe in that [Sweet Earth] franchise to actually improve the quality dramatically,” he said.
Nestlé also has created plant-based extensions for popular brands like its Coffee mate and Starbucks creamers, while adding plant-based meat as an option in its DiGiorno Pizza and Stouffer’s Lasagna.
Even though plant-based offerings may be a small part of sales for the company's brands, they can be lucrative and important to growing the product line.
Presley noted that in the case of plant-based creamers, for example, while it may only grab 10% to 15% of the category, Nestlé wants to capture that share to further boost the relevancy of its brands and prevent other companies from getting those sales instead.
“I want to grow the base and I want to control the fringe in the category around me,” he said.
Alicia Enciso, chief marketing officer for Nestlé USA, said even though plant-based products are “growing at a small pace, it will continue to be extremely important” for the CPG giant.
“Consumers are now requesting for mainstream brands to have plant-based options,” she said. “We have such a broad portfolio that we can really bring very strongly similar options.”
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Sweet Earth
How Jack & Annie’s uses jackfruit to shake up plant-based meat
Founder and CEO Annie Ryu said the massive fruit native to South India has a meat-like texture and easily adapts to products including nuggets and meatballs.
By: Megan Poinski• Published Nov. 2, 2022
The first time Annie Ryu had jackfruit as a meat substitute, she was in India and a farmer had prepared a jackfruit burger for her.
It wasn’t necessarily how the farmer or his family usually ate the massive tropical fruit. But, Ryu said, he had thought that since she was from the U.S., she might like something that looked like the food she was used to at home.
Ryu, who was traveling in the subcontinent with her brother, recalls she found herself blown away by the offering.
“What jackfruit has is that sinuous nature of muscle. And then, you're basically able to — with a blank slate on flavor — mimic all of these different foods” that come from animals, Ryu said.
The jackfruit burger set Ryu on a path to a new career in food. She’s now the CEO of two plant-based brands that put jackfruit in the center of the plate. The Jackfruit Company was founded in 2015 to present jackfruit-based main dishes. Ryu said this brand mainly targets vegetarians.
The other, Jack & Annie’s, uses jackfruit to make meat analogs including chicken-like nuggets, patties and tenders; sausages and meatballs. Launched in 2020, it targets omnivores who are interested in making plant-based choices. Today, Ryu said, Jack & Annie’s is in more than 6,000 points of distribution in the U.S. It received $23 million in a Series B funding round last year to help with its expansion.
Jack & Annie’s was developed to bring jackfruit to a wider consumer audience, Ryu said. Because jackfruit is naturally meat-like, it requires less work to turn it into a meat analog than other plant-based proteins, including pea or soy.
“We're able to prepare foods that are delicious and that have the taste, texture and eating experience of meat — but are also less processed than the competition,” Ryu said. It also has “a simpler ingredient deck because again, our starting material is similar to meat, just the way it grows.”
You don’t know jackfruit
Jackfruit isn’t exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind for most people in the U.S. when they think of fruit.
While it grows on trees in tropical climate regions, most of the fruit comes from the plant’s native India. The spiky green fruits can be huge, weighing up to 100 lbs.
When jackfruit is cultivated at an unripe stage — like it is for the products made by The Jackfruit Company and Jack & Annie’s — it isn’t sweet. It has a meaty texture and a fairly neutral taste. (It is sweet and fruity tasting when ripe, with a flavor many have said is similar to Juicy Fruit gum.)
Compared to other fruits, jackfruit is high in protein, with 3 grams in a cup. And because it is a fruit, it has a wealth of antioxidants. A cup of jackfruit has 18% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 10% of vitamin A.
But jackfruit doesn’t just have positive nutritional attributes. It’s also highly sustainable. It’s a fairly drought-resistant crop. And it’s naturally disease and pest resistant.
Health and sustainability benefits aside, jackfruit has traditionally been consumed in South India. Since many traditional Indian dishes are vegetarian, Ryu said the traditional use of jackfruit is as a substitute for meat in dishes like curries. Jack & Annie’s has taken it a step further.
“We've pioneered the product development, the R&D, for the fruit varietals but also for how to ... best make beef, pork, chicken, seafood,” Ryu said.
Making jackfruit more approachable
Ryu’s companies take a tropical fruit that is obscure to many people and turns it into plant-based food that is recognizable to any consumer in the U.S.
While jackfruit naturally has a meaty texture and neutral taste, Ryu said it’s still taken work to transform it into conventional food products. There are things food scientists and product formulators for Jack & Annie’s learned how to contend with. Since jackfruit is a fruit, Ryu said, it has more natural moisture than the often processed and extruded plant-based ingredients common in meat analogs.
On the other hand, she said, it’s easier for Jack & Annie’s to design products that aren’t too dry and don’t necessarily rely on other plant-based fats. Ryu added that because of the nature of jackfruit, no bitter blockers — a common flavor component for plant-based proteins that may have an unpalatable taste — are needed.
Ryu said she often hears reviews from consumers who think that Jack & Annie’s nuggets taste just like chicken. Getting shoppers to try jackfruit products so willingly was a major driver in creating the Jack & Annie’s brand.
“We've really provided foods that are so simple and convenient and easy to prepare,” Ryu said. “You don't need to know how to work with jackfruit to have an awesome experience. You just need to know how to throw chicken nuggets in the air fryer, throw sausages on the stovetop.”
Even though Jack & Annie’s doesn’t hide the fact that its main ingredient is jackfruit, the tropical fruit is not necessarily front and center on the branding. Ryu said that’s by design.
Jack & Annie’s is making jackfruit accessible to the ordinary consumer. Instead of running the risk of confusing potential shoppers by telling them that the plant-based analogs are made of an exotic fruit, Jack & Annie’s presents the plant-based meat products first — chicken analogs, meatballs or sausage. The other information is readily available with a deeper look.
“It's really the sequence of communication that changed,” she said.
A strong supply chain
While CPG makers have struggled this year with inflation and shortages that increase prices or make products scarce, Ryu said that has not been as much of an issue for Jack & Annie’s.
A big reason why is the company's unique supply chain.
Ryu said the company has a subsidiary that is a direct link to more than 1,500 family farmers in India. They supply all of the company’s jackfruit. This arrangement, she said, helps the farmers earn a chunk of their annual family income — about 10% to 40% based on what they harvest — for cultivating a crop that already grew in their yards. About 70% of jackfruits previously went unused, Ryu found, so this arrangement provides an incentive for farmers to work with thecrop.
The biggest supply chain challenges have actually been in the U.S., Ryu said. Ingredients makers, trucking and packaging issues have all done more to drag on the company’s progress than getting jackfruit from India.
Jack & Annie’s is still growing in the current economy, with distribution points more than doubling in the last year, Ryu said. A big part of that is the brand’s value proposition, she said. It stands in sharp contrast to other plant-based meat companies that have reported a huge slowdown in sales growth.
“We've been delivering a huge needed point of difference in this space,” she said. “Apart from the inflation, one of the things that has been driving some concern in the [plant-based]space is people feeling like, ‘Are these foods really better for me? What is it really made of?’ And that's a call that jackfruit and Jack & Annie’s answers.”
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Jack & Annie's
Investing in plant-based proteins is the most cost-effective way to cut emissions, report says
By: Megan Poinski• Published Aug. 1, 2022
Investing in plant-based food can prevent more than three times the carbon dioxide emissions than putting the same amount of money into other industrial climate mitigations — including decarbonization at power plants and carbon capture at facilities that make cement, iron and steel or chemicals — according to a study from Blue Horizon and Boston Consulting Group.
Animal-derived food is responsible for about 15% of global emissions, the study found. If plant-based products were to make up 8% of the global market share for meat by 2030, it could eliminate 1.5% of the global emissions expected for that year.
Advocates for the plant-based segment, as well as those promoting greater sustainability, have long pushed to quantify the impact their products could have on the environment. Most other reports present only levels of emissions, land and water saved, but do not make comparisons to other industrial environmental mitigation efforts.
Plant-based food isn’t often compared to environmentally friendly shipping, but both are ways to mitigate climate change — and both take large investments from companies, shareholders, venture firms and individuals.
Blue Horizon is a venture firm that funds companies in the food industry with the potential of making an impact on sustainability, animal welfare and human health standards. For the study, the firm and Boston Consulting Group looked how many gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions would be prevented with investment in an array of industrial technologies, as well as the realistic economic viability of making the changes.
Plant-based proteins was the clear leader in both aspects. If more plant-based food replaces existing animal-derived items, it immediately cuts back on emissions from livestock and open land dedicated to raising and slaughtering animals. The financial impact from the reduction of these emissions could be up to $354 billion per trillion dollars invested in this technology, the report found. The investment with the second-largest financial impact would be carbon capture at cement plants, which could be up to $123 billion per trillion dollars invested in the technology, the study found.
But more importantly, producing plant-based proteins is a relatively easy lift, as the technology already exists and there is a fairly direct route to a return on investment. But some other sustainability projects — like carbon capture measures at cement plants or converting older buildings on traditional HVAC systems to heat pumps — are expensive and don’t have the same payoff, according to the study.
Blue Horizon and Boston Consulting’s report aims to make the case to investors and policymakers that funding the plant-based sector will pay off. While sales of plant-based products appear to be growing at a slower pace than in previous years, there is still growth and, analysts say, potential for more.
The year 2021 was record-breaking in terms of investments in alternative proteins. According to the Good Food Institute, about $5 billion was invested into companies creating alternatives from plants, cells and through fermentation in 2021. But this is just a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to meet future demand. A GFI analysis earlier this year estimated that about $27 billion worth of infrastructure has to be built by 2030.
But there’s one other group that needs to be convinced: consumers. Blue Horizon’s report found that six in 10 consumers have tried alternative proteins, with 35% saying they eat them frequently. More than half of all consumers said environmental impact is one of their top three reasons to eat alternative proteins. As products are on their way to reaching price parity with traditional animal-based forms of eating, lower costs coupled with a message of sustainability could help more consumers choose alternatives.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of The Giant Company
Plant-based consumers spend less on meat and dairy, study finds
By: Megan Poinski• Published Dec. 1, 2022
Many consumers who bought plant-based products in 2020 not only continued to buy them in 2021 but spent less on animal-derived products, according to a study from the Plant Based Foods Institute, Kroger and its affiliated data insights firm 84.51°. The study used Kroger shopper data.
Health concerns were the top motivator for consumers switching to plant-based food, with 54% listing it as a reason. Nearly half said they think plant-based alternatives are healthier than their animal-derived counterparts, and 39% said they like the taste of plant-based alternatives.
This study was published at an interesting time for the plant-based sector. While business was booming in 2020 and slowing down in 2021, 2022 has served as a contrast.
But while some news outlets seem poised to write the plant-based sector’s obituary, there’s still investment, innovation and sales for plant-based, as well as businesses that find the segment important. And there are still people interested in the segment. According to a study done by Moonshot Collaborative in October, two-thirds of consumers had plant-based food at least once a month in the previous quarter.
While this report doesn’t address the current year, the study points the way to some aspects that have drawn consumers to plant-based — as well as what may keep them there.
The study looks at consumer purchases for different plant-based categories — milk, cheese, yogurt, frozen meals, frozen meat and refrigerated meat. In 2020, 59% of shoppers were either new to the plant-based category or increased or maintained their previous purchases. Last year, 54% were in that realm, with nearly three in 10 increasing the amount of plant-based products they bought from the previous year. In 2021, more than a third of consumers in the plant-based cheese and yogurt categories were new to them. Nearly a third of plant-based frozen meal and refrigerated meat consumers were new.
Households that spent more on plant-based products also spent less on their animal-derived counterparts, the study found. In 2021, a household that bought some plant-based products spent an average of $31 less year-over-year on traditional foods. And that wasn’t just for those that bought more of the alternatives. People who bought less plant-based food in 2021 than in 2020 tended to spend about $42 less in the plant-based category — but they also spent just over $60 less on animal-based foods.
The data also found some trends among plant-based consumers. They tend to be more interested in convenience, believe they are less healthy and are more sensitive to price.
Some of the newest initiatives from plant-based companies target this kind of consumer. Impossible Foods recently launched frozen meal bowls, which zeroes in on the convenience meal sector. Plant-based breakfast sandwiches and burritos also are available in grocers’ freezers. Beyond Meat, which is working to regain sales and bring its operations back into the black by the second half of 2023, is zeroing in on its health message. The company recently partnered with the American Cancer Society to advance research on whether plant-based meat can play a role in cancer prevention.
The one area that plant-based might have problems is with wooing price-sensitive consumers. With inflation hitting a four-decade high earlier this year and consumers paying more across the grocery store, many plant-based products still are premium priced. Analysts looking at buying patterns have shown consumers buying less expensive meats and products, putting plant-based in an even tighter spot.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Plant Based Foods Association
How can plant-based meat get back to growth?
As business indicators have worsened, Beyond Meat and other companies in the space have tried new strategies — but analysts say they may have forgotten consumers along the way.
Compared to a year ago, the company’s fortunes have fallen. Net revenues were down 22.5% year over year. Beyond Meat posted losses of $101.7 million — $19.2 million more than its net revenues for the quarter. Sales across the board were down by double digit margins, except for foodservice in the U.S., which saw a slight uptick.
The year-over-year declines are nothing compared to Beyond Meat’s history as a publicly traded company. In July 2019, its share price hovered above $200 and plant-based meat was a quickly growing segment. Today, Beyond Meat’s stock is worth less than a tenth of that amount.
On the whole, plant-based category sales are stagnating, with no growth in the number of consumers who are buying it this year compared to last, according to a study from Deloitte.
Compared to the mega-growth of plant-based meat in years past, Brown said this is not what he expected.
“I think that is something that is new to our business, given the 12-plus years of pretty aggressive growth that we had enjoyed — and I think we will enjoy again in the future,” he said. “But for now, it's really about stabilizing the business based on a more reasonable revenue growth trajectory.”
Beyond Meat isn’t alone in scrambling to turn back headwinds against plant-based meat — though as the only publicly traded company primarily in this segment, it shows the struggle much more acutely than private competitors or plant-based brands owned by larger CPG companies.
Peter Saleh, managing director and restaurants analyst at BTIG, said a big part of the problem is that many of these companies let their ambitions and ideas get ahead of consumers. As plant-based meat companies have grown, they have rapidly expanded into different products, different geographies, and different retail and foodservice channels.
“It feels to me like they're doing too much all at once, and they're not doing it profitably,” Saleh said. “And then, this theory that consumers are just going to want this. Consumers haven't been convinced why they should be eating plant-based food.”
Considering the rising rates of inflation, the waning consumer enthusiasm for plant-based meat and companies’ cutbacks to stanch their losses, analysts say it may be an uphill climb for companies in the segment to step back and make the case for plant-based food to regular consumers.
Making fickle consumers want plant-based
In the last couple of years, Beyond Meat has rapidly innovated into new products. They started with the Beyond Burger. They created Beyond Sausage. Then Beyond Chicken, Beyond Jerky and Beyond Steak.
Brian Holland, a managing director and senior research analyst at Cowen, noted every new innovation has done worse on the market than the previous one. It’s not necessarily a matter of execution, he said. It’s more a matter of convincing consumers to try another product line in the plant-based meat segment.
“If people aren't buying the core product, they're certainly not inclined to move into some of these other adjacencies, where maybe they think it makes less sense,” Holland said.
For example, he said, years of development and product knowledge likely has convinced consumers there are plant-based versions of burgers potentially worth trying. But the average consumer may not be as likely to try a plant-based steak, since it is a product with a very distinct taste and eating experience.
To get consumers there takes time and careful convincing through product quality. But even if companies are taking the time and effort, target consumers are somewhat elusive. Plant-based meat companies tend to zero in on flexitarians — people who eat meat but are willing to substitute plant-based alternatives some of the time.
"Consumers haven't been convinced why they should be eating plant-based food.”
Managing director and restaurants analyst, BTIG
But BTIG’s Saleh said flexitarian consumers aren’t very loyal. They easily switch from animal meat to plant-based meat. They will switch between brands of plant-based meat. And they may decide not to switch to any form of plant-based meat if the price or experience isn’t right. So when dealing with not-so-loyal consumers, Saleh said, there’s no opportunity for plant-based meat companies to do much in the way of adjusting prices in order to bolster margins.
Corey Chafin, an associate partner in Kearney’s consumer practice, said few consumers see plant-based meat as a replacement to what they normally buy. It’s considered just another option to add. Flexitarian consumers planning a barbecue may get a package of plant-based burgers to grill along with traditional meat ones, but they will still buy the meat ones, Chafin said.
And while all plant-based products look at plant-based milk’s 16% share of category sales as a goal, Holland said this logic is somewhat flawed. “It's need-to versus want-to,” he said, comparing alternative dairy to alternative meat.
“There is a built in need state driven by lactose intolerance and sensitivities,” Holland said. “There's nothing analogous to that in plant-based meat. I think that's where we struggle to see an adoption curve that will look anything like what we've seen in plant-based beverages.”
Price and taste
In Beyond Meat’s earnings call, Brown said the company was working on two things long seen as the key to plant-based meat acceptance: Price and taste parity.
Right now, plant-based meat is more expensive than its traditional counterparts largely because of the increased costs of new production methods for a new product produced at a relatively small scale.
Kearney released a study in March correlating the price and growth rate of plant-based meat. According to the study, falling prices could lead to exponential growth. For every 1% drop in price of plant-based patties, the study said they could get a 3% increase in market share.
In the months since the study, Chafin, who was one of its authors, has moderated his outlook somewhat. He’s seeing potential growth rates slowing down but also a renewed focus on the importance of getting taste right.
Inflation’s pull on traditional meat companies is giving plant-based meat a bit of a leg up when it comes to reaching price parity, Chafin said. Right now, he said, plant-based meat is pricey primarily because companies are trying to recoup R&D and investment costs, and they don’t have the same commoditized supply chain as meat companies.
“It gives more time and space for the plant-based companies to become more competitive over time,” Chafin said. “They're not having to compete as aggressively on price.”
Price notwithstanding, meat has become a more formidable commodity in recent years. Brian Earnest, lead protein industry analyst from CoBank, said in the years before the pandemic, grocery stores featured more high-end cuts of meats and better quality products, making them seem accessible to all levels of consumers.
Today’s grocery stores — and consumers — are more focused on value promotions, Earnest said. They are pushing cheaper ground beef or chicken drumsticks. And because of the higher price of plant-based products, fewer consumers are picking them up now.
Inflation may not really be changing this behavior. Earnest recalled the early days of the pandemic, when pantry-stocking consumers emptied shelves, refrigerator cases and freezer sections at grocery stores. There was little traditional meat to be found, but plant-based meat was plentiful.
On the earnings call, Brown said there is a forthcoming “fourth iteration” of the Beyond Burger, and he’s thrilled with the improvements it has made on earlier versions of the company’s plant-based burger.
“I've watched key customers and stakeholders come through the innovation center, try a version of this fourth generation product, and quickly share my belief that it’s a meaningful advance toward our North Star of being indistinguishable from its animal protein equivalent,” Brown said.
Holland said it’s good to see that Beyond Meat recognizes price and taste as key aspects that need to be addressed, but these attempts are only worthwhile if they can help the company increase revenue.
“Saying you're going to do those things doesn't actually mean you achieve those things,” Holland said. “The consumer will vote on whether the latest iteration of the Beyond Burger meets its taste thresholds.”
Getting to a future where plant-based is not the alternative
Impossible Foods, which is also a leader in the plant-based meat space, is a private company and does not report sales or earnings. CEO Peter McGuinness has said Impossible Foods is growing 65% to 70%, with a strong balance sheet and a good cash position.
In an emailed statement from an Impossible Foods spokesperson, the company said while price parity is a goal it is striving to achieve, it is looking to provide consumers with value.
“We have to more clearly articulate our value proposition and benefits around health and planet, and then we need to communicate with consumers at scale to make our value proposition fundamentally and broadly clear,” the Impossible Foods statement said. “All while continuing to innovate and make great products that are better than animal meat in terms of taste, texture and nutrition.”
“The consumer will vote on whether the latest iteration of the Beyond Burger meets its taste thresholds.”
Managing director and senior research analyst, Cowen
It’s a tricky balance, and one Cowen’s Holland said might be a bit easier for Impossible Foods because the private company has always been more deliberate about its launch strategy.
But Brown said on the earnings call he plans to make Beyond Meat’s value proposition clearer to grow the company. Brown has two groups of targeted consumers in mind: Those who are concerned with their health and those who are concerned with the environment.
Brown said the conversation about how Beyond Meat is a better choice for consumers would start happening soon. Earlier this week, the company announced a partnership with the American Cancer Society to facilitate research on plant-based meat. It’s not clear whether the partnership actually will lead to any endorsement of Beyond Meat or other alternative products, but the cancer advocacy and research group already warns against diets containing red meat.
BTIG’s Saleh said if Beyond Meat could convince consumers its products were healthier, the company may be able to attract more buyers. However, that’s a steep hill to climb. Saleh said Beyond Meat could do better if it made consumers believe the products are as good or superior to meat and also win on price and taste.
Beyond Meat has had supply and demand problems — and the demand problem is a more difficult one to fix, Holland said. And, he continued, that dilemma is a red flag when a company is cutting back and hoping for growth.
“Can they actually generate growth on a more streamlined portfolio with presumably less investment?” Holland said. “That seems to be a tall ask.”
But on the earnings call, Brown tried to convince investors that growth will happen. He admitted there are risks — if the economy continues trending downward or the company fails to connect with consumers. But the new structure, he said, will likely prevent failure.
“We're going to structure the business differently, where even if there's some moderate growth — I mean, very moderate — we'll be able to achieve the goals that we're talking about,” Brown said.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Beyond Meat
Inside the maturation of the plant-based category
In the last decade, plant-based products have sparked the interest of millions of consumers worldwide. New companies, new science, new ingredients and new investments helped create a vibrant segment featuring plant-based copies of everything from burgers to seafood to steak.
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