Consumers have soured on highly processed ‘faux meats,’ so manufacturers are going back to the drawing board to create cleaner, healthier and better-tasting products.
The meat substitutes segment continued its freefall during the 12 weeks ended July 17 as dollar sales fell 11.8% to $255.24 million while units tumbled 18.9%, according to Chicago-based market research firm Circana. Losses were particularly bad on the refrigerated side after many manufacturers shifted their focus to frozen items with longer shelf lives. (Refrigerated meat substitutes just weren’t turning fast enough.)
A survey of 1,000 consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland released July 27 by New York-based Strong Roots helps get to the root of the problem. It found that while 61% of respondents are planning to increase their intake of plant-based products during the next six months, nearly 40% are not planning to buy more alternative meats. Why the discrepancy?
“The alternative meat bubble is bursting, and the survey results have shown that consumers are sick of overly processed foods filled with additives, even if they are plant-based,” says Strong Roots founder and CEO Samuel Dennigan. “We’re seeing a major shift toward consumers preferring whole plant, nutrient-dense food options with an ingredient list that isn’t miles long. Plant-based food companies once touted faux meat as the solution to the climate crisis, or the gateway to veganism. But this is a new era, ‘plant-based 3.0.’ We need to focus on creating options that bridge the gap in taste, health and sustainability that faux meat products can’t satisfy.”
Courtney Boyd Myers, founder and CEO of New York-based AKUA, agrees that that consumers are turning away from alternative meats. But she’s looking beyond the traditional vegetable ingredients. “More and more, we are hearing consumers’ demands for cleaner, healthier plant-based food options versus the unhealthy, processed, ‘fake meat’ options that have flooded the market recently,” she says. “AKUA is tapping into these [needs] by offering healthy, high-protein alternatives featuring new ingredients — ‘blue foods,’ as we like to call them — like ocean-farmed kelp. Kelp is nutrient-rich, and we source 100% of our kelp from regenerative ocean farms, which is a truly unique and captivating environmental story.”
In July, AKUA partnered with Nickelodeon to introduce two new kid-friendly SKUs: SpongeBob Kelp Patties and SpongeBob BBQ Patties.
BUILDING A BETTER BURGER
Other plant-based protein manufacturers are focusing on creating better burgers — healthier, tastier and more versatile. For example, El Segundo, Calif.-based Beyond Meat recently debuted Beyond Stack Burgers, tapping into an explosion of thin, “smash-style” burgers on restaurant menus. The Beyond Stack Burger is a better-for-you option with no added antibiotics or hormones, no GMOs, and 35% less saturated fat than an 80/20 beef burger. Plus, it contains 0 mg of cholesterol per serving.
Beyond isn’t the only company dedicated to creating a better burger. In June, Rio de Janeiro-based Future Farm, whose U.S. headquarters are in Los Angeles, launched Future Burger 4.0 in the U.K. Expected to hit U.S. freezers in early 2024, “This is our fourth iteration of our hero product. We want consumers to know that it’s still the same, great tasting burger it has always been, but improved,” says CEO Alexandre Ruberti, citing a reduction in sodium, fat and carbs. “In the U.S., specifically, we increased the protein from 14 grams to 21 grams per burger. We also increased the amount of calcium and iron and added 10 more vitamins and minerals, including vita- mins B6, B12 and folate. It’s important to us that we listen to our consumers and continue to innovate our products so that they are the best tasting and cleanest on the market.”
Finally, Los Angeles-based Actual Veggies made its mark with a line of refrigerated plant-only burgers that taste like plants, not imitation meat. Now, the company is migrating away from the refrigerated section into the freezer aisle. “We strategically decided to launch our products in the frozen section in response to market demands and to accommodate a partnership with Whole Foods Market,” say co-founders Hailey Swartz and Jason Rosenbaum. “As a result, we completely redesigned our packaging to be freezer friendly.”
The new packaging consists of four individually wrapped 3-ounce patties.
Manufacturers are also working to improve their offerings outside the burger category. In June, Beyond Meat introduced a new iteration of Beyond Sausage, which features an enhanced flavor profile and a new aromatic blend of spices, including garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Available varieties include Brat Original, Hot Italian and Sweet Italian. “Our next generation Beyond Sausage reflects our commitment to relentlessly innovate until our products are indistinguishable from animal meat in taste, texture and flavor while being more nutritious and sustainable,” says chief innovation officer Dr. Dariush Ajami.
Meanwhile, Hood River, Ore.- based Tofurky is reportedly launching two new flavors of its plant- based sausage: Mango Chipotle and Chorizo.
COST REMAINS AN OBSTACLE
Although m ore and more consumers are interested in replacing meat, high price tags often make the switch cost-prohibitive, says Christie Lagally, CEO and founder of Seattle-based Rebellyous. “Plant based meat has seen some extraordinary growth in the last 10 years. Food processing and new ingredients made these products better and more palatable to consumers,” she continues. “But consumers have never widely adopted these products due to the price.
“We know that the biggest considerations for consumers are price, taste and convenience. So, while consumers may want to make the switch to plant-based meat, many can’t afford to do so because it’s currently two to five times the cost of animal-based meat,” says Lagally. However, “Once Rebellyous deploys our Mock 2 production system, we’ll be price-competitive with processed chicken products.” Five years in the making, the continuous, chilled, automat- ed food processing system will dramatically increase volume and quality, making price parity a reality.
Rebellyous currently offers a lineup of “classic” flavored plant-based nuggets, pat- ties, and tenders for retail and foodservice. But after it switches to its new processing method, the company plans to add new flavors to the lineup. “We frequently get requests for spicy versions so that will be on our docket for late 2024,” says Lagally.