Sunday, November 28, 2021

Join the beyond, impossibly crowded plant-based chicken market

by Dee-Ann Durbin | The Associated Press

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods found success with realistic plant-based burgers. Now, they’re hoping to replicate this in the rapidly growing but crowded market for plant-based chicken nuggets.

Beyond Meat said Monday that its new tenders made from fava beans will go on sale at US grocery stores in October. Walmart, Jewel-Osco and Harris Teeter will be among the first to offer them.

Impossible Foods this month began selling soy-based nuggets at Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and other groceries. They will be in 10,000 stores by the end of this year.

Rival startups, both based in California, helped redefine the plant-based burger. The Beyond Burger was the first to be sold in grocery aisles next to traditional meat in 2016; A few years later, Impossible Burgers joined them.

But this time around, Beyond and Impossible will be stocked with plant-based chicken options already in the freezer. According to the Good Food Institute, which tracks plant-based brands, more than 50 brands of plant-based nuggets, tenders and cutlets are already on sale in US stores.

Some, like Morningstar Farms and Quorn, have been making plant-based meats for decades. But Beyond and Impossible has hosted imitators creating realistic products not only for vegans and vegetarians, but also for omnivores. Fifteen percent of those 50 brands were new to the US market in 2020, such as Nugs, from New York startup Simulate and Daring Foods of California.

They are all trying to grab a piece of the plant-based market, which is still dwarfed by the traditional meat market but growing rapidly. Sales of frozen, plant-based chicken tenders and nuggets in the US rose 29% to $112 million in the 52 weeks ended August 28, according to Nielsen IQ. Sales of traditional frozen tenders and nuggets rose 17% to $1.1 billion in the same period.

Globally, retail sales of meat substitutes are expected to grow 2% to 4.6 million metric tons between 2021 and 2022, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Processed animal meat sales are expected to remain flat at 18.9 million metric tonnes over the same period.

Tom Rees, an industry manager at Euromonitor, said sales of plant-based meat were on the rise even before the coronavirus hit. In Euromonitor surveys, almost a quarter of consumers worldwide say they are limiting their consumption of meat for health reasons.

But the pandemic boosted plant-based meats as consumers looked for new things to cook at home. Rees said meat shortages in meat production facilities and the coronavirus outbreak also made consumers think twice about the animal meat market.

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Meat or no meat, breaded nuggets aren’t really a health food. One serving of Beyond’s Chicken Tenders has 12 grams of fat, 450 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of protein and 210 calories. Impossible Nuggets have 10 grams of fat, 320 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of protein and 200 calories. By comparison, the same size serving of Pilgrim’s Chicken Nuggets contains 14 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, 460 milligrams of sodium and 220 calories.

Celeste Holz-Schttinger, vice president of Impossible Foods Product Innovation, said it was important to start with a plant-based burger because beef production is a major contributor to climate change. But Impossible has spent the past year developing plant-based tenders with a goal to replace all animal agriculture with more sustainable alternatives by 2035.

Beyond Meat has been experimenting with chicken for even longer. The California-based company El Segundo launched Chicken Strips in 2012. But it pulled them from the market in 2019, citing the need to dedicate more manufacturing capacity to its burgers.

Unlike the newer fava bean-based tenders, Beyond Burgers are made with pea protein. Beyond President and CEO Ethan Brown said the company has spent more than a decade researching different protein sources and their characteristics, and doesn’t want to limit itself to just one.

Darish Azmi, Chief Innovation Officer, Beyond, said mimicking the fibrous texture and fat distribution in chicken was the biggest challenge with the new tenders. The company is still far from perfecting a plant-based chicken breast or marble steak, but 200 scientists and engineers are working on it, he said.

“The goal is to reduce that gap between our product and animal meat,” he said.

There is also a price difference. Beyond Meat’s suggested retail price is $4.99 for an 8-ounce package, while Impossible’s 13.5-ounce package costs $7.99. Tyson Foods sells a 2-pound bag of chicken nuggets at Walmart for $5.76.

But it is clear that many people are eager to try plant-based foods. In July, Panda Express quickly sold out from Beyond Meat Orange Chicken in trial runs at locations in Los Angeles and New York. Panda Express says it is exploring a wider rollout of the product, which was developed specifically for the brand.

Jasmine Alkire recently tried Beyond Meat Orange Chicken at a Panda Express in Los Angeles. Alkire became a vegetarian seven years ago, but Beyond Chicken tasted like the orange chicken she grew up eating.

“It was delicious and didn’t have a weird aftertaste or off-putting texture,” she said.

For now, Beyond Meat has several benefits. It has partnered with big brands like KFC and McDonald’s and has already opened its first manufacturing plant in China, where Impossible’s products are yet to be sold.

Impossible is still awaiting regulatory approval to sell its burgers in Europe and China because they contain genetically modified ingredients. But Chicken from Impossible doesn’t have the same ingredients. Both the companies are planning to sell their chicken overseas.

Impossible is confident that consumers will be attracted to its nuggets. In the company’s taste tests, it was found that most consumers preferred their product to real chicken.

“It’s better for you, it’s better for the environment, and it tastes better than animals,” said Denise Woodside, president of Impossible Foods. “So we think it’s a very strong value proposition.”

Other brands insist they will defend their turf. Morningstar Farms, which is currently the plant-based poultry sales leader in the US, launched a separate brand in 2019 called Incogmito, which includes products that mimic meat.

Sarah Young, general manager of plant-based proteins at The Kellogg Company, owner of Morningstar, said the brand has the largest product portfolio and the highest repeat buyer rate in the plant-based category.

“We’ve been at this for a long time,” she said.


Terence Chee contributed from Redwood City, Calif.

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