AISLE CHATTER

Karen is the director of marketing/digital strategy and the specialty foods editor at Food World and Food Trade News. With many years under her belt in the hospitality, food & beverage, and retail food industries, she transitioned to the media side of the business in 2011. She can be reached at karen@foodtradenews.com.

Whether the issue is health, sustainability, ethics or just a preference to diversify one’s diet, there is one thing that is certain – we’re in the midst of a plant-based revolution, and plant-based meat alternatives are the trendiest scene stealers on the food circuit. Faux burgers (plant-based patties meant to mimic the taste, texture and appearance of a real burger) are especially in the spotlight, with two start-up brands battling it out for the heavyweight title: Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. Other more established CPG companies are seeing the value in the alternative protein option and want to in on the action as well. Hormel and Kellogg’s are the most recent companies throwing their hats into the ring by launching new plant-based meat lines.

Hormel has introduced a soy-based product that looks and cooks like ground beef into select retail outlets with plans to expand distribution shortly thereafter. The brand, called “Happy Little Plants,” will be part of the company’s cultivated foods line. The brand will also introduce other plant-based products such as Italian sausage, breakfast links and bratwursts.

Kellogg’s has also introduced a new brand, Incogmeato, which will be part of its Morningstar portfolio.

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Its new faux burger patties, which will be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores in early 2020, will be made from non-GMO soy. The line will also feature plant-based chicken nuggets and chicken tenders alternatives. While Kellogg’s has been a leader in the plant-based food sector for years with its Morningstar veggie burgers (Kellogg’s is the number one seller of veggie burgers, although its market share has slumped, falling to 16.9 percent in 2018 from 33.3 percent in 2013), this is the company’s first attempt to make a product that will have the same taste profile and bite as a traditional burger.

Tyson Foods, on the other hand, is moving its chips into another pot. After selling its 6.5 percent stake in Beyond Meat in April (just before the company went public), the meat processor and manufacturer is investing in another animal protein alternative: plant-based shellfish. The venture capital arm of the company has taken a minority stake of less than 20 percent in New Wave Foods, which makes plant-based shrimp from seaweed and other natural ingredients. The start-up is working on crab and lobster alternatives as well.  I think Tom Mastrobuoni, CFO for Tyson Ventures, had the right mindset when he stated at the Good Food conference last year that “we’re willing to participate in our own disruption by investing in alternative proteins, focusing on long-term sustainability, and working to provide consumers with the products they want.”  He also stated, “Tyson Foods’ involvement in alternative protein is about ‘and’ not ‘or.’ We believe that alternative proteins, whether from plants or the lab, can co-exist with traditional animal protein. There’s growing global demand for protein of all types.”

One thing is for certain – plant-based meats are not only here to stay, they will continue to grow exponentially, especially as new technologies allow the taste and texture to be indiscernible from the real thing. And, if the switch to these animal protein alternatives will lead to us not only shrinking our carbon footprint but will aid us in feeding the growing world population more sustainably, then I think this plant-based food revolution is a welcome disruption that can co-exist with our traditional meat industries.

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September is National Family Meals Month to promote families having one more meal together, at home, per week. According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), family meals eaten at home have been proven to benefit the health and wellness of children and adolescents, to fight obesity and substance abuse, and makes families bonds stronger. To encourage this practice of families spending quality time together while sharing meals, Weis Markets is offering free in-store dietitian workshops throughout the month.  The Sunbury, PA-based retailer’s team of six registered in-store dietitians will host classes and workshops geared toward meal planning, easy cooking hacks and budget-budget friendly shopping for adults and children. The grocer will also be launching a special edition of its in-store magazine, Healthy Bites that will be dedicated to the special theme of the month. “National Family Meals Month is the perfect time for our team to provide our customers guidance and tools to shop, cook and eat healthfully as a family,” said Weis Markets lifestyle initiatives manager Beth Stark. “Our in-store workshops and special edition to our Healthy Bites magazine showcase different recipes that are easy for the entire family to make and enjoy together.” Weis Markets has also launched its 12th annual Fight Hunger program for the month of September. The initiative provides food and monetary donations to over 150 local food banks and emergency food providers across the seven states in retailer’s 198-store service area. Customers are encouraged to make donations of $1, $3, $5, or $10 at checkout throughout September (which is also Hunger Action Month) or round up their grocery total to the nearest dollar. Shoppers may also donate shelf stable items such as canned goods, pasta, peanut butter, apple sauce, or soup by adding these items to their cart and placing them in a donation bin at checkout. “Our Fight Hunger program is designed to help families struggling with food insecurity in the communities we serve,” said Ron Bonacci, Weis Markets’ vice president of advertising and marketing. “Over the last 11 years, our customers have demonstrated their generosity through donations in our stores and online. As a grocery retailer and an active member of the communities we serve, we feel a responsibility to help those in our communities that are in need. Weis Markets is proud to complement our customers’ donations with corporate donations to 150 local hunger organizations that the program supports.”

Also doing its part to combat food insecurity is Harris Teeter. The Matthews, NC-based supermarket partnered up with Smithfield Foods at the grand opening of its newest store in Cary, NC to donate nearly 40,000 pounds of protein to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina as part of Smithfield’ s hunger relief initiative, Helping Hungry Homes, which works to provide nutritious, high-quality protein to food banks, school nutrition programs, disaster relief efforts, and community outreach programs. “Feeding hungry families is Harris Teeter’s number one giving priority,” said Danna Robinson, communication manager for Harris Teeter. “Through Smithfield’s Helping Hungry Homes program, we can help provide nutritious meals for families-in-need.” The donation, equivalent to more than 160,000 servings of protein, will support the Food Bank’s efforts to alleviate hunger across its 34-county service area.  “With more than 10,000 employees throughout North Carolina, Smithfield Foods is proud to call this state home,” said Jonathan Toms, associate manager of charitable initiatives for Smithfield Foods. “As we work to address the needs of neighbors in our local communities, we are pleased to partner with organizations like Harris Teeter, to come together and serve wholesome meals to those who need it most.” This is the 39th large-scale protein donation made by Smithfield to food banks across the country during its 2019 Helping Hungry Homes tour. Since the program’s inception in 2008, Smithfield has provided more than 130 million servings of protein to food bank, disaster relief efforts, and community outreach programs nationwide. Following the grand opening ceremony, associates from Harris Teeter and Smithfield Foods volunteered at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina where they helped pack, organize, and label donation items for the food bank, ensuring the nearly 600,000 seniors, children, and individuals in need across the food bank’s service area receive high-quality meals.

Until next month…

Karen can be contacted via email at: karen@foodtradenews.com