As MEAT+POULTRY’s managing editor for almost 10 years, I have spent a lot of time eating meat, thinking about meat and writing about meat. Covering the production and processing of meat has always been the focus of my job and the mission of our magazine. But now, on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, I find myself reading, writing and thinking about plants. Not plants in the traditional sense – but plants that are being turned into proteins. And I’m not the only one. The entire meat industry is spending at least some time thinking about plant-based proteins and wondering how they will affect the meat business in the future.
In a period of three weeks, I found no less than one dozen stories on meatpoultry.com that referenced or related to the plant-based protein movement. Stories about how Kroger is going to try marketing its plant-based proteins in the meat aisle; how KFC is getting into the plant-based protein game by testing “Beyond Chicken” nuggets in Atlanta stores; and how even 7-Eleven and Little Caesars are offering customers plant-based alternatives with their Beyond Meat Pizzas.
Many foodservice establishments have routinely added either a Beyond Meat branded plant-based item or some version of the Impossible Burger to their menus for quite some time. According to Impossible Foods, the Impossible Burger is now sold in more than 15,000 locations in the US, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Beyond Meat products are available in grocery stores and Impossible products will be there soon.
Meat processors have been entering the alternative proteins arena in droves too. Tyson Foods started by investing in Beyond Meat but has since withdrawn its investment in order to go on its own. The company recently introduced its Raised & Rooted alternative protein brand. Justin Whitmore, executive vice president of alternative proteins for Tyson, said “we expect this business to contribute to total Tyson in a way that’s meaningful and adding to our profit profile.” President and CEO Noel White said the company raised its marketing and promotional spend between fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019, and, “we intend to fully compete in the alternative protein space and if that means that we need to up our spend again, we will.”
Hormel is following suit with the introduction of its Happy Little Plants line. The company chose to unveil its newest brand and its ground plant-based alternative product at the Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference on Sept. 4. “We believe today’s consumers demand choice and Hormel is perfectly positioned to provide a plant-based protein alternative,” James M. Splinter, group vice president of corporate strategy, said at the conference in Boston.
With so many in the meat business entering the alternative protein market, it begs the question – are these products ever going to fully replace meat? Many consumers are giving the products a try, but are they getting rid of their overall meat consumption after the discovery of these new product options? I think the alternative proteins are providing consumers with a way to cut down ever-so-slightly on their meat consumption in a way that makes them feel better healthwise and environmentally. But I don’t see these products replacing meat altogether. As for the meat companies entering the arena, why shouldn’t they? It’s a great way for the Tysons and Hormels of the meat world to make more money on additional product offerings.
But when it comes down to it, I think meat consumers – not vegetarians or vegans who never liked meat to begin with, but meat consumers – will continue to eat and enjoy the products they’ve always enjoyed even if they supplement their protein consumption with a few alternative options. That’s what I’m going to do. Afterall, there’s nothing better than bacon.