It’s been many years since plant-based began to transform US retail grocery meat cases, but the category continues to evolve in new and interesting ways that promise even more growth.

“Consumers are more knowledgeable than they were a couple of years ago, and there are more exciting options available,” said Danny O’Malley, president of San Diego-based Before the Butcher. “It continues to grow and change, and I think the opportunities for plant-based will continue to explode as long as we continue to innovate. In a year or two there will be a lot of exciting things that are going to happen which will elevate it even more.” 

In 2021, perhaps the most dominant trend within the plant-based category is new plant-based chicken innovations, O’Malley said.

That will be in true next year, too, and Before the Butcher will meet the surging demand with a new extra-large chicken chunk product that, when shredded, is very similar to a shredded chicken breast. The company hopes to launch it in early 2022. That will join the chicken burger Before the Butcher released, along with other burgers, about two years ago.

Also on trend are ground products, which Before the Butcher has stayed on top of with the introduction of plant-based grounds in what O’Malley calls a “brick” form. The new lineup comes in five flavors, including value-added offerings like Chorizo, Italian and Breakfast.

“The really great thing about them is they’re so versatile,” he said. “You can use them in so many different ways: pasta, tacos, burritos empanadas. So many things can be made with ground products.”

The shrinking gap between many real and plant-based meats is also having a huge impact on continued demand for plant-based, O’Malley said.

Earlier this year, Before the Butcher rolled out its Mainstream brand, which offers an 8-pack of frozen plant-based burgers for a suggested $10.99, significantly less than other plant-based options on the market and comparable to real-meat products.

“Some plant-based products are quite expensive and difficult for the average consumer to purchase regularly,” he said. “Our 8-pack you can buy once a week instead of once a month. It’s a similar price as meat, not 50% more. Sales have been fantastic.”

Generational differences will play a big role in determining future demand for plant-based, O’Malley said. Today, the groups with the largest purchasing power, boomers and Gen Xers, list health concerns as their No. 1 reason for switching from real meat to plant-based meat. Millennials and Gen Zers, by contrast, are more concerned about the health of the planet and animal welfare.

Plant-based products are often criticized for having long ingredient labels. While O’Malley said that’s in some ways endemic to the process of making plant-based, the industry is making gains.

“We’re making a product out of plants that mimics animal-based proteins, and you can’t do it without science, manufacturing and processing,” he said. “There’s no easy way to get around it, and there’s always a balance. We all do the best we can to create products that are healthy, as clean and natural as we can.”

He added, though, that while arguing about the length of ingredient labels, it’s easy to forget one of the plant-based industry’s central selling points: the industry’s argument that plant-based proteins are healthier and better for the environment than animal proteins. 


The plant-forward option

In July, Hatfield, Pa.-based Clemens Food Group announced it was entering the plant-forward protein segment with the launch of its Hatfield Recipe Essentials Blended products, which are 75% pork, 25% mushrooms. 

The 14-ounce package is available in two flavors: Unseasoned Ground Pork with Mushrooms and Mild Taco Seasoned Ground Pork with Mushrooms.   

Michele Williams, Clemens’ senior retail marketing manager, said that plant-forward is in high demand these days, in retail and foodservice, and especially among younger consumers who are seeking balanced, clean-label products.

Ground meat in general is a growing segment, and Clemens’ is the first blended product in the ground pork segment that meets that need, Williams said. Not only that, it’s also minimally processed.

“This is a plant-forward product, not a plant-based product. It has fewer than five ingredients. Our Recipe Essentials line seemed like the perfect match.  When we decided to launch, and call it Hatfield Recipe Essentials Blended, 84% of people we surveyed said they would purchase the product.”

The line already offers great convenience, Williams added. Clemens decided to take it a step further with a plant-forward option.

The feedback the company is getting from consumers is mainly based on taste, she added. People are raving about the flavor that comes through, and that they can’t even tell that mushrooms are in it. Consumers are concerned about what’s in their food and, more importantly, what’s not in their food. “Five ingredients or less” is really driving that demand, Williams said.

“With plant-based, there’s often a long list of ingredients. We also see our consumers gravitating to the claims we put on our labels. We’re seeing a high propensity for all-natural, no hormones and other claims.” 

When it comes to packaging, a tray pack with plastic covering it has long been the standard for ground meat. But with the pandemic, much of that changed, Williams said. People switch to Cryovac and sealed, something Clemens had already been doing for a long time.

“It was no different with our blended product,” she said. “It’s a convenient, presealed package, a perfect size for one or many, a space saver in the fridge or freezer.  More companies are going that route and more consumers are open to it. You don’t have to worry about where it came from. You know it’s coming from the manufacturer.”


Beyond Meat expands distribution of plant-based sausage

El Segundo, Calif.-based Beyond Meat, Inc. is expanding distribution of its new Beyond Breakfast Sausage Links into Canada.

Now available in retailers across the country, this marks Beyond Meat’s entry into the Canadian retail breakfast category.

Beyond Breakfast Sausage Links are crafted to deliver the craveable flavor and juicy texture of traditional breakfast sausage, while offering 12g of protein per serving and 35% less sodium than the leading brand of pork sausage, according to the company.

Beyond Breakfast Sausage Links are made of simple, plant-based ingredients like peas and rice, with no GMOs, soy, gluten, antibiotics, hormones or cholesterol.

As part of the Canadian rollout, Beyond Meat has launched Sleep for Sausage, a nationwide campaign that will reward Canadians for getting a good night’s sleep with free Beyond Breakfast Sausage Links (studies have linked eating a good breakfast with better sleep habits). Fans can receive one Beyond Breakfast Sausage Link for every hour of sleep they clock.