Meat Companies Jumping on the No Meat Train

October 14, 2019


We’re used to the idea that oil and fossil fuel companies have interests in renewable energy. This makes sense for a number of reasons.

It’s good PR greenwashing. It gives them a window into emerging (competing) technology. It gives them a small lever to control and steer that technology. It hedges their bets as renewables look more and more like the onrushing wave of the future.
It might give them some ability to manage their own decline, so as to maximize their profits from the fossil and fissile resources they still hope to exploit as the world goes to sun and wind power.

And it makes them some money.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the deepest pocketed entrants into the exploding “meatless meat” market, are meat companies.

New York Times:

..with plant-based burgers, sausages and chicken increasingly popular and available in fast-food restaurants and grocery stores across the United States, a new group of companies has started making meatless meat: the food conglomerates and meat producers that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods originally set out to disrupt.

In recent months, major food companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have rolled out their own meat alternatives, filling supermarket shelves with plant-based burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets.

Once largely the domain of vegans and vegetarians, plant-based meat is fast becoming a staple of more people’s diets, as consumers look to reduce their meat intake amid concerns about its health effects and contribution to climate change. Over the last five months, Beyond Meat’s stock price has soared and Impossible Foods’ deal to provide plant-based Whoppers at Burger King has prompted a wave of fast-food chains to test similar products. Analysts project that the market for plant-based protein and lab-created meat alternatives could be worth as much as $85 billion by 2030.

Now, at supermarkets across the United States, shoppers can find plant-based beef and chicken sold alongside the packaged meat products that generations of Americans have eaten.

“There is a growing demand out there,” said John Pauley, the chief commercial officer for Smithfield, one of the largest pork producers in the country. “We’d be foolish not to pay attention.”

In September, Nestlé released the Awesome Burger, its answer to the meatless patties of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. (“We do feel like it’s an awesome product,” a Nestlé spokeswoman said.) Smithfield started a line of soy-based burgers, meatballs and sausages, and Hormel began offering plant-based ground meat.

There are also blended options — a kind of faux fake meat that falls somewhere in the existential gray area between the Beyond Burger and a cut of beef. Tyson is introducing a part-meat, part-plant burger. And Perdue is selling blended nuggets, mixing poultry with “vegetable nutrition” in the form of cauliflower and chickpeas.

“When companies like Tyson and Smithfield launch plant-based meat products, that transforms the plant-based meat sector from niche to mainstream,” said Bruce Friedrich, who runs the Good Food Institute, an organization that advocates plant-based substitutes. “They have massive distribution channels, they have enthusiastic consumer bases, and they know what meat needs to do to satisfy consumers.”

But the emergence of these meat companies in the plant-based-protein market has also prompted suspicion and unease among some environmental activists, who worry the companies could co-opt the movement by absorbing smaller start-ups, or simply use plant-based burgers to draw attention away from other environmental misdeeds.

“That’s a legitimate concern,” said Glenn Hurowitz, who runs the environmental advocacy organization Mighty Earth. For years, big oil companies bought clean-energy start-ups and essentially shut them down, he noted.

“Making admittedly modest investments in plant-based protein is a legitimately good thing for these businesses to do,” Mr. Hurowitz said, but “it doesn’t entirely balance out all the pollution they’re causing.”

Many of the major food companies began investing in plant-based meat or other vegan alternatives years ago. But the pace has accelerated over the past few months.

“The entire end-to-end process happened in less than a year,” said Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s executive vice president for alternative protein. “We’ll move with the consumer, and we have the capacity that helps us move quickly.”

For now, though, it’s too early to tell how consumers will respond to the wider range of options, said Alexia Howard, an analyst at Bernstein who tracks the plant-based meat industry.

“We’ll inevitably see some chipping away of market share,” Ms. Howard said. “But it’s who has the best product that will ultimately survive.”

Beyond Meat is not worried. Ethan Brown, the chief executive (and no relation to his counterpart at Impossible Foods), said the company’s narrow focus on plant-based products would set it apart from other purveyors of meatless meat.

“If Nestlé or Perdue or Tyson think it’s a good idea to buy our product and reverse-engineer it, they’re chasing a ghost,” he said. “We’ve moved on from those models into new models and new iterations.”


As for burgers that combine meat with vegetables, he added, “I haven’t ever heard a consumer tell me they want a blended product.”

Eric Christianson, the chief marketing officer at Perdue, described the company’s investment in blended products as a simple business decision. Because so many companies are producing meatless meat, he said, Perdue decided to focus on a different category — almost-meatless meat.

5 Responses to “Meat Companies Jumping on the No Meat Train”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I think both the taste/mouth-feel and the dietary health properties will be the biggest selling points. If the meat companies can’t produce the tastiness, the Impossible/Beyond makers will maintain an edge. If they can produce the tastiness, it would undercut their own meat market all the faster.

    If the majority investors in, say, Impossible Foods want to sell the company to a larger food company to cash in, there ain’t a damn thing that protestors can do to stop it.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I’m looking for further tweaking – there is space in the market for an impossible burger with no GMOs, for instance.
      Expect the same kind of progress we’ve seen in other technologies, and I’m starting to think a big shift away from meat is not as hopeless as I thought 5 years ago.

      • jimbills Says:

        “impossible burger with no GMOs”

        Not certain that’s possible. The heme in the Impossible Burger is the key to its success, and it does create a realistic meat-like product. The Beyond Burger is several steps back from it – it has more of a rubbery, synthetic taste than the Impossible.

        All of these other companies will be fighting the same battle as Beyond. The meat companies in the article above are trying ‘blended’ varieties. I wonder what the point of that is, it won’t satisfy any market’s wants, but I’m guessing it’s because they can’t crack the flavor profile without adding real meat (plus, they can use their product for it).

    • jimbills Says:

      “If the majority investors in, say, Impossible Foods want to sell the company to a larger food company to cash in, there ain’t a damn thing that protestors can do to stop it.”

      The founder of Impossible is a big believer in his company’s mission, and I’m guessing most of its private investors are, too:

      I don’t think there’s a high probability for them to sell out to a meat company.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “I think … the dietary health properties will be the biggest selling points. “

    It’s interesting you say that just as the net is overflowing with articles like this one:

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