If there’s one thing we’ve learned by now, it’s that people want to eat plants in all sorts of ways. An illustration of that key fact: For the 52 weeks ending December 2019, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11.4%, bringing the total plant-based market value to $5 billion, according to a report released earlier this year by the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute, featuring commissioned data from SPINS.
Responding to this solid trend, some grocers, among them Albertsons Cos. and The Kroger Co., have even introduced own-brand plant-based food lines, while many tout their plant-based offerings in sections called out with prominent signage.
“Growing environmental concerns around the impacts of animal agriculture and the need to feed 10 billion people by 2050 are shifting consumer preferences, thrusting plant proteins into the spotlight,” explains Thomas Hayes, an analyst at New York-based Lux Research. “Companies like Impossible Foods are looking to capitalize on this opportunity, pushing the envelope to create plant-based products with sensory profiles as similar as possible to their animal-derived counterparts.”
Speaking of Redwood City, Calif.-based Impossible Foods, the company recently raised $200 million in its latest funding round, led by new investor Coatue, for a highly impressive total of about $1.5 billion raised since its founding in 2011, and introduced pre-formed 4-ounce patties of its popular Impossible Burger product, available at retail in a 2-pack.
Impossible Foods is hardly the only game in town, however. One of its major rivals in foodservice, retail and now the direct-to-consumer channel, Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat, the No. 1 brand in the refrigerated plant-based meat category, according to SPINS data for the year ending July 12, has its own plan for success — and product development is a crucial part of it.
“We expect the plant-based meat category to continue to grow within the overall plant-based foods industry,” says Chuck Muth, Beyond Meat’s chief growth officer. “At Beyond Meat, we have a very specific goal — to perfectly build delicious, nutritious meat from plants that’s indistinguishable from its animal protein equivalent. We have three core platforms for innovation — beef, pork and poultry — and we’ll continue to innovate across these platforms, both by renovating existing products as well as by introducing new product offerings. We’re proud of our products in-market today and are committed to a rigorous approach of rapid and relentless innovation to improve our products in terms of taste, nutrition and price.”
Another important element of the plan is merchandising. According to Muth, “Part of our strategy to democratize plant-based meat and bring it from niche to mainstream has been to meet the consumers where they’re already shopping for their protein” — that is, the meat case, where Beyond Meat was the first plant-based meat to be sold, with Impossible Foods following suit when it arrived at retail in 2019.
This approach is borne out by a study undertaken in late 2019 and early 2020 by PBFA and Kroger, in which plant-based meat sales increased by 23% when those items were sold in the meat department. The study, which placed all plant-based meat in a 3-foot set within the meat department, ran for 12 weeks at 60 stores in Colorado, Indiana and Illinois.
Ready to Crumble
In the realm of innovation, Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Ingredient Solutions has been working hard, releasing a new line of plant-based ingredient solutions available to food manufacturers across the country.
“These new products are designed to help food manufacturers incorporate more plant-based foods into their offerings for the growing number of consumers interested in adding these items to their diets,” explains Paul Sheehan, director of sales for Hormel Ingredient Solutions, part of Hormel Foods Corp.
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