Commentary

Tyson Beefs Up Its Plant-Based Proteins With Raised & Rooted Brand

In a move “rooted in how people eat today,” Tyson Foods yesterday announced it was joining the “alternative protein” fray with plant-based and blended products that will hit retailers’ shelves later this year. The Raised & Rooted  brand has a very broad target market in mind: not only vegetarians and “flexitarians,” but also carnivores.

Tyson’s imitation nuggets, which use pea protein isolate, bamboo fiber and other plant ingredients instead of chicken pieces, will debut over the summer. They contain egg whites, however, and won’t be appropriate for vegans. The company also plans to release a blended burger made with Angus beef and pea protein that it claims will have fewer calories and less saturated fat than the plant-based burgers sold by competitors.

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“For us, this is about ‘and’ -- not ‘or.’ We remain firmly committed to our growing traditional meat business and expect to be a market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit growth and could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company,” Tyson president and CEO Noel White says in a news release.

“Tyson over the past five years has spent billions of dollars to build out its packaged foods business, acquiring staple names like Hillshire Farm and the organic Smart Chicken brand, seeking to boost profitability and insulate the company from the ups and downs of its mainstay commodity meats business,” writes  the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Bunge.

Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s head of alternative proteins, tells Bunge that the company wants to reach a growing number of consumers who are mixing veggie burgers and other sources of plant protein into their diets alongside meat.

“About 21% of consumers identify as ‘flexitarian,’ or partially vegetarian, according to market-research firm Mintel. Consumers are rethinking their meat consumption over concerns about their own health, animal welfare and meat production’s environmental impact,” Bunge reports.

“The excitement and hype over the sector has also been fanned by the initial success of Impossible Burger’s sales at Burger King outlets in St Louis, Missouri. The fast-food chain began offering them in April and sales have outpaced the group’s national average by 30%, according to Earnest Research. It plans to roll out the plant-based burger across the rest of the U.S. by the end of the year,” writes  Emiko Terazono for Financial Times.

Meanwhile, “Perdue Foods, another large meat producer, said Wednesday it will distribute new chicken nuggets, tenders and patties that blend meat with vegetables,” writes CNBC’s Amelia Luca.

“Nestlé announced this month that it will launch a pea-protein-based burger this fall in the United States under the brand Sweet Earth.… Other meat giants such as Cargill have made investments in cell-cultured-meat companies such as Memphis Meats, which is said to be close to launching products,” Laura Reiley reports for the Washington Post, pointing out that U.S. consumers devour 50 billion hamburgers annually. 

“Tyson has been watching the alternative protein market for a while. Its investment arm, Tyson Ventures, acquired a 5% stake in Beyond Meat in 2016. It sold that stake before Beyond Meat’s IPO, but it continues to hold investments in other startups, including Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies -- which grow meat from cells -- and mushroom-based protein startup MycoTechnology,” writes  the AP’s Dee-Ann Durbin. 

“These things work together and help us have a broad view of what the world of food looks like,” Tyson’s Whitmore tells Durbin.

“By 2040, traditional meat consumption could fall by 33%, according to a recent analysis by the consulting firm AT Kearny,” observes TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber.

“‘All in all, cultured meat and new meat replacement products are going to disrupt the $1,000 billion conventional meat industry with all its supplier companies,’ the study’s authors write. ‘This disruption is supported by a general shift toward consumption of non-meat proteins (for example, legumes and nuts) as a consequence of new lifestyle trends, all aimed at a more sustainable and healthier diet, as well as regulatory measures against conventional meat,’” Shieber adds.

Still, there’s always a but.

“Questions remain about whether plant-based burgers such as those from Beyond Meat or Impossible are healthier than animal-based burgers. While they have zero cholesterol, they are calorically similar, similar in saturated fat and frequently slightly higher in sodium. And in a recent study by the Detox Project, many commercial organic pea proteins tested positive for high levels of glyphosate, an herbicide that has been linked to cancer.”

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