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 “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 and restaurants. Chief Executive Noel White said he expects that 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 Beyond Meat just before the stunning equity debut. Shares of El Segundo-based Beyond Meat shares are up more than five-fold since they started trading.
Tyson’s stock was up 0.6% on Thursday morning, while Beyond Meat shares were essentially flat.
Tyson produces a fifth of the nation’s chicken, beef and pork. More than 60% of consumers are actively adding protein to their diets, and 75% 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% of consumers want more in their diets.
“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-pea hybrid burger, sold under the brand Raised & Rooted, is expected to reach consumers in the fall.
“The idea of a half-beef, half-plant burger is intriguing, said Jennifer Bartashus, Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst. “It should appeal to people trying to make that slow transition into eating less meat. You’re easing into a change, and that’s what this product looks like it’s intending to do.”
Other new products Tyson 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 less than 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 or the size of investments or to provide any details on customers. The new products are coming to several major retailers where people 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 who say the industry contributes heavily to greenhouse gas emissions. Tyson recently pledged to reduce emissions 30% 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.”