Less than 5 percent of the US population categorizes itself as vegan; however, a growing number of consumers refer to themselves as flexitarian. This demographic eats meat and poultry, but will also explore plant-based options for reasons ranging from health benefits to sustainability concerns. This group is learning that it does not need to choose one or the other when it comes to the emerging category of blended meat and poultry products.
The Power of Meat 2019 study shows there is a great deal of consumer interest in blended meat/plant-based foods. There’s more interest than resistance, as compared to vegetarian products and cell-based meat and poultry. (See chart.) This curiosity has companies such as The Better Meat Co., Sacramento, California, working with meat and poultry processors to develop blended products.
MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Joanna Bromley, co-founder and COO, about the opportunities in this new and growing segment in the refrigerated and frozen meat departments. She shared insights on how plant-based ingredient systems simplify the blending process.
M+P: Why blend? What made you get into this business?
Joanna Bromley: Americans love meat, but a lot of us also want to enjoy more plant-based protein. The Better Meat Co. makes it easy to get the best of both worlds. In the same way that plant-based burgers are now in the supermarket meat aisle, some forward-thinking meat companies are exploring putting plant proteins in the meat itself, and with great results. Much of the attention so far has focused on blending mushrooms into burgers. That’s quite promising, but there are some drawbacks, such as reduced protein, limited functionality and product shrinkage. We provide a solution for meat companies by offering delicious plant protein formulas that make the meat taste better, along with reducing saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, all while maintaining protein levels. The “better beer brat” (pictured) contains one-third plant protein and two-thirds pork.
M+P: What types of plant-based ingredient systems does The Better Meat Co., offer?
Bromley: We have different lines for different kinds of meat, but our products are generally made with a mixture of wheat, peas, mushrooms and functional plant fibers. It’s all very clean label. We’re also expanding into creating our own patented protein production system that will allow us to eliminate potential allergens. Our products are dry and shelf stable; our customers simply hydrate and blend at the desired ratio into their ground or processed meat products. Maybe that’s a 30/70 blended sausage, or maybe it’s a dumpling made with half plant protein and half pork. The applications are endless, and they taste amazing.
M+P: What are some of your most successful applications and why?
Bromley: Dumpling makers use our plant-based pork formula at a 50 percent ratio to make pork dumplings better tasting and better for their customers. Poultry companies can blend our plant-based chicken formula into chicken nuggets and patties. (The chicken nuggets featured are one-third plant proteins and two-thirds chicken.) Focus groups show that most consumers either can’t tell any difference or actively prefer blended products over those that are solely meat.
M+P: Why would a meat or poultry processor want to offer blended products?
Bromley: Our blended products make meat taste better. The products now have fiber and superior nutrition profiles. Blending helps processors better achieve sustainability initiatives. Blends are also cost effective. We aim to be at or below the price of the meat we blend with, so it’s an affordable option for all.