The meat alternatives market is on fire.
Restaurant sales of meat-alternative products jumped 268% from 2018 to 2019, according to data from group purchasing organization, the Dining Alliance.
Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods Inc. have garnered the lion’s share of the growing segment, but an increasing number of other companies are providing alternatives to the alternatives.
Beyond Meat, founded in 2009 in Los Angeles, announced its initial public offering in May, valued at $25 per share, and it quickly shot past $171. Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 and based in Redwood City, Calif., got its “bleeding” Impossible Burger onto the menu at multiple major quick-service chains this year, including Burger King and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc.
But despite the stronghold that those two meatless protein startups have on the fledgling meat-alternatives industry, reported product shortages allow room for competitors to gain a foothold.
Reports of Impossible Burger shortages hitting major partners, including Red Robin and White Castle, have surfaced. Bloomberg made calls earlier this month to a dozen Red Robin and White Castle units and found that only two locations had the popular meatless patties in stock, and the restaurants had no idea when they would get them back in stock.
Beyond Burger experienced similar shortages in 2017 and 2018, when the company’s supply could not keep up with increasing demand.
Impossible Foods has addressed these shortages, telling Nation’s Restaurant News that “like many successful startups, we are facing short-term ramp-up challenges resulting from demand greatly outstripping supply.” The company said it is in the midst of an aggressive hiring spree to keep up with demand and “plans to install a second production line in July that should double current capacity,” anticipating “that the second line will be fully staffed and ramped up in the fall.”
In addition to supply issues, both companies have seen rising competition. Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., which previously had sold its stake in Beyond Meat, said it would launch its own line of meat-alternative products.
Here’s a look at some of the up-and-coming meat-alternative competitors:
After suggesting that it would enter the meat alternatives industry for months, Tyson Foods Inc. announced on June 13 that the company would soon be launching a new line of meat-free and blended protein products called Raised & Rooted.
The initial product portfolio will include plant-based nuggets made from blend of pea protein powder and other plant ingredients. The blended burgers made with a combination of plant-based ingredients and Angus beef. Additionally, the company’s Aidells Whole Blends brand will be launching a line of sausage and meatballs, made with chicken and plant-based ingredients.
“Today’s consumers are seeking more protein options so we’re creating new products for the growing number of people open to flexible diets that include both meat and plant-based protein,” said Noel White, Tyson Foods president and CEO, in a statement. “For us, this is about ‘and’ – not ‘or.’ We remain firmly committed to our growing traditional meat business and expect to be a market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit growth and could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company.”
Tyson will be launching the vegan nuggets to retail outlets nationwide this summer, with the blended burgers to join the lineup in the fall. No details were available concerning where the products would be available.
Tyson declined to comment further on the launch of the new product line.
Through Tyson Ventures, the company’s venture capital fund, Tyson Foods said it also continues to invest in start-up companies involved in alternative proteins, including mushroom-based protein producer MycoTechnology and cell-based meat producers Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies.
Nestlé Sweet Earth
Nestlé USA is another major food corporation diving into the plant-based proteins. In 2017, Nestlé acquired Sweet Earth, a Moss Landing, Calif.-based vegan foods manufacturer. Sweet Earth this year announced the launch of its new vegan burger product, Awesome Burger, and its ground beef component, Awesome Grounds, that will be headed to retailers in the fall.
Sweet Earth currently offers both organic and conventional versions of the Awesome Burger, and both are certified as containing no non-genetically modified organisms. (Advocates have criticized Impossible Foods for using genetically modified soy in the Impossible Burger).
Nestlé told NRN that the company plans to distribute the Awesome Burger and Awesome Grounds to supermarkets, restaurants and universities, though the company declined to comment on specific partnerships.
“Both the organic and conventional versions of the Awesome Burger are higher in protein and fiber than most other plant-based burgers — our conventional burger has 28 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber,” Kelly Swette, CEO and co-founder of Sweet Earth told NRN. “This is because we use U.S.- sourced yellow pea protein, [which is] more protein-dense than green pea protein.”
Before the Butcher
Sweet Earth was not the only plant-based protein startup acquired by a major manufacturer. Sunset Beach, Calif.-based vegan foods brand Before the Butcher was acquired earlier in June by Gregg and Jeff Hamann, the owners of ground beef producer Jensen Meat Co.
The company also announced the upcoming national retail distribution of its “chicken,” “turkey,” “beef,” and breakfast “sausage” plant-based burger patties this summer to 3,000 stores, including three of the largest grocery retailers in the country. Following the distribution of their “B4Burger” portfolio, Before the Butcher will launch the rest of its Uncut vegan protein products, including ground “beef,” vegan chorizo and Italian sausage products.
Before the Butcher’s founder Danny O’Malley worked for Beyond Meat before starting his own vegan protein company in 2017, just one year after leaving Beyond Meat.
“I embraced the vision that the founder of Beyond Meat saw as well and I realized that there were opportunities far beyond what they were doing,” O’Malley told NRN. “They have amazing stuff going on, but the product line was limited. … We have a full family of plant-based products that supersedes our competitors, and we believe our nutrition is superior: our Uncut burger has 150 mg of sodium, while our competitors are close to 400 mg of sodium, and that was a strategic decision on our part.”
The B4Burger is made from non-GMO preserved soy protein, though many of their competitors have chosen to go with yellow or green pea proteins. O’Malley said that the decision to use soy was motivated by the “texture and bite” of the product that he believes more closely resembles ground beef.
O’Malley said he is not worried about competition and does not believe the market will become oversaturated.
“All of us [meat-alternatives producers] at our greatest capacity can’t even meet the demands of the market right now, so there is need for all of us,” O’Malley said. “We are all working toward the same goal. [Beyond and Impossible] have established this strong foothold but we are running right behind them.”
The London-based Moving Mountains Foods — which has been dubbed the “Impossible Burger of Europe” — just announced a major partnership with the Hard Rock Café and will introduce its B12 burger (named after its vitamin B12-rich wheat, soy and pea protein patty) to 23 Hard Rock Café locations across Europe, including London, Rome, Paris and Prague.
Moving Mountains burgers can already be found in 3,000 fast-casual and casual-dining locations across Europe, including Applebee’s, Harvester, Ed’s Easy Diner, Nikki Beach and O’Neill’s Irish Pub & Bar.
Like the Impossible Burger, the B12 burger “bleeds” (with beetroot juice), but Moving Mountains does not want to be seen as “just another” meatless burger and must work within European food rules and regulations that restrict the usage of genetically modified products.
Although Moving Mountains is not available in North America, a spokesperson said the company hopes to launch its products abroad soon.
Hormel Foods Corp., widely known as the brand behind the Spam canned pork brand, is exploring the growing alternative-meats industry and will soon launch a vegan pizza topping in response to increased demand for meat-free alternatives.
"The consumer seems to be speaking about having plant-based as a choice," said Jim Snee, CEO and president of Hormel, at the 2019 dbAccess Global Consumer Conference in Paris.
"We understand that it is a shiny new toy. We get that. It is one of our shiny new toys as well. It is something that is certainly on our minds, like it is everyone else, and there is a lot of work happening both in the market and behind the scenes."
This is not the company’s first foray into products that reduce meat consumption. Hormel recently launched its “Fuse Burger,” made from ground turkey and rice, to retailers and foodservice distributors nationwide.
“We think that consumers, in terms of engaging with products like this, a lot of times the first place that happens is in a restaurant, off of a menu," Snee said during the conference. "So we are hard at work to make sure we have the foodservice offering that can help consumers connect with that space and make a decision if that's something they want to continue to pursue."
Hormel declined to comment further on the upcoming products.
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