Tyson Foods Inc., the biggest U.S. meat processor, wants in on the veggie protein market that’s hot with consumers and investors alike.
The meat giant is aiming to satisfy demands of the so-called flexitarians, a rapidly growing segment of people who eat meat but are cutting back and adding more vegetable-based protein to their diets. Tyson’s solution: a half-pea-protein, half-Angus-beef burger.
In what could be the biggest foray into the burgeoning alternative protein market this year, Tyson said it will debut the hybrid meat-plant patties and a series of other related products this year in grocery stores as well as restaurants. Chief Executive Officer Noel White said he expects the offerings will become a “billion-dollar brand” and that the company will be a leader in the space.
The company is joining the scrum of companies rushing headlong into meat alternatives after Beyond Meat Inc.’s sizzling initial public offering in May left them playing catch up. Tyson sold its stake in the latter company just before the stunning equity debut. Beyond Meat shares are up more than five-fold since they started trading.
Tyson’s shares rose as much as 3.8 percent in premarket trading. Beyond Meat tumbled 7.5 percent as of 7:24 a.m. in New York, though its share price is still up more than five-fold since its May public offering.
Tyson produces a fifth of the nation’s chicken, beef and pork. More than 60 percent of consumers are actively adding protein to their diets, and 75 percent are open to including both meat and plant-based proteins, according to Noelle O’Mara, chief marketing officer at Tyson. For plant-based proteins specifically, 40 percent of consumers want more in their diet.
“We’ve confirmed that alternative protein is growing and that it makes sense for us to be a part of it,” O’Mara said by phone.
Tyson’s beef-plant hybrid burger, sold under the brand Raised & Rooted, is expected to reach consumers in the fall. Other new products the company plans to offer include sausages and meatballs made of a chicken-plant blend under the Aidells Whole Blends brand. The meat producer is also introducing a pure plant-based chicken nugget substitute, which will come to market this summer.
Tyson will be able to bring the products to market from the development stage in under a year, and the company didn’t need to make extra investments to produce them, said Justin Whitmore, chief sustainability officer and head of alternative protein.
Whitmore declined to comment on price points, the size of investments, or provide any details on customers. The new products are coming to several major retailers where consumers regularly shop, he said. The blended burger and sausages are a noticeable shift away from that of the company’s purist vegan rivals, namely the Beyond and Impossible Burgers.
“We’re bringing forward an entire set of offerings across brands and channels that satisfy how consumers are eating today rather than one approach,” he said.
Tyson is making a health pitch as well with its new products. The hybrid burgers made of Angus beef and pea-protein isolate have fewer calories and less saturated fat than other pure plant-based burgers on the market, Whitmore said.
The move also fits into the sustainability goals for the giant producer of beef, a protein that has long weathered attacks from environmentalists that say the industry contributes heavily to greenhouse gas emissions. Tyson recently pledged to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
“We care deeply about all proteins and what it takes to be as efficient as possible,” Whitmore said. “This fits in with our total story.”