AUSTIN — After almost 130 years of building a brand based around meat products like Spam, Hormel Foods is jumping onto the plant-based protein bandwagon with a new line of meat alternatives.

Jim Splinter, Hormel's group vice president of corporate strategy, introduced the Happy Little Plants product line at the Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference early this week.

“We understand consumers across a spectrum of lifestyles are adopting more flexible attitudes and behaviors when thinking about food, especially given the wide variety of products available in the marketplace. We intend to focus on all the ways plants can help consumers find alternatives in their food routines," Splinter said at the event.

Hormel says Happy Little Plants will eventually include a line of meatless products, such as breakfast sausage links, Italian sausage, bratwurst and seasoned burger patties.

However, the first product to hit the shelves this month is unseasoned ground plant-based "meat." It is being sold at some Hy-Vee grocery stores in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin to start.

The new product has 20 grams of soy protein without any gluten or cholesterol. It is 180 calories per serving.

Hormel joins Kellogg and others investing in plant-based proteins in the wake of the explosion of interest in vegan foods, such as the rapid rise of the Beyond Burger.

Some analysts predict the global plant-based protein market could swell to a value of $14.32 billion by 2025.

While Hormel is known for meat, particularly pork products, this is not its first foray into the world of plant-based protein. However, it is Hormel's most ambitious push into the meat-free market.

Hormel currently sells plant-based pizza toppings for food service customers. In 2014, Hormel began selling its Fuse burger, which is made of turkey and rice. Hormel's Applegate brand sells a Blend Burger, which mixes meat with mushrooms.

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."