Meat Alternatives Forecast To Play A Bigger Role In The Comfort Food Aisle

Food & Drink

The plant-based trend has been closely tied to the meteoric rise of meat alternatives over the years, but as the novelty effect of faux meat starts to fade, causing category sales to even dip recently, analysts expect alt protein players to find new ways to keep their shoppers satisfied.

That includes partnering with more restaurants and offering full meals, rather than selling standalone meatless products in retail — in other words, there will likely be a massive shift for comfort food, such as tacos and dumplings, to become more vegetarian friendly.

This movement is particularly evident at Daring, a Drake-backed company that promises its plant-based product can be pulled like real chicken, and has recently closed a $65 million series C round in October. “Foodservice makes up about 10% of Daring’s revenue today, and we expect that to grow as we lean further into this channel over the next few years,” founder and CEO, Ross Mackay, wrote me via email.

Daring has hit restaurant menus across several major U.S. metropolitan regions, including New York, LA and Miami, being served at popular venues such as Beauty & Essex and Groot Hospitality’s subsidiaries. This gives his company a unique advantage to compete against highly processed plant-based burgers and nuggets, Mackay believes.

“We think the comfort food trend will especially favor plant-based products that are a direct sub for whole muscle cuts, and can easily be incorporated into recipes that chefs already love to cook,” Mackay said.

“If a recipe calls for chicken, chefs can make it with Daring: sautéed, deep fried, wok fried, baked or shallow fried,” he added. “It’s such a versatile product, and our foodservice partners aren’t just using Daring as another protein option for salads — they’re reimagining comforts and creating amazing dishes like Daring kimchi fried rice, plant chicken pot pie, and Daring fried chicken and waffles.”

Segue Into Meat Alternatives

Not only foodservice and comfort food overall are targeted by Daring and peer players, including TiNDLE, as a key growth opportunity, they also help consumers, who are new to meat alternatives, segue into the plant-based diet, according to Dasha Shor, a registered dietitian and global food analyst at Mintel

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Shor believes taste and texture concerns may have been the biggest barriers for consumers unfamiliar with protein alternatives, but noting how “prepared meals have the potential to remedy that by combining familiar ingredients and flavor profiles with less familiar veggie options like plant sausage or dairy-free cheese.”

“Here inspiration can come from foodservice,” she said, “where diners are more open to trying new options when they are part of a meal prepared by a chef: 64% of Americans who dine out express interest in plant-based menu options.” 

Meal preparers are taking notes, offering more vegetable items for the consumer. Argentinian startup Frizata, which has just debuted in the U.S. with a line of frozen appetizers and meatless items, including Fribruger and FriChick’n Empanadas, says its goal is to target flexitarians instead of vegetarians only.

Frizata’s cofounder and CEO, José Robledo, explained to me: “The percentage of vegans and vegetarians is 2% and 4%, respectively. That’s still small for us to talk about revolution and impact on the environment. But when we add to this, almost 30% of flexitarians (people who reduce the consumption of animal meat in their diet but do not eliminate it), the impact is strong. These three groups added together are one-third of the population and this total is what has been growing.”

Robledo notes how the 70% of Frizata’s plant-based products are made without the intention of simulating animal meat. 

“We understand that we need to provide our customers with as many and a variety of plant-based options as possible for their everyday meals,” he said. “The vegetable universe is too wide for us to limit ourselves to thinking only about making a meat burger without meat.”

Navigating Consumer Pain Points

Other prepared meal providers choose to avoid faux meat altogether, citing intensified competition in the space and a more focused business strategy that allows them to display wholesomeness and authenticity.

Canadian startup Komo Plant Based Foods, which makes traditional comfort food items, including taco filling, lasagna, and shepherd’s pie, believes the biggest consumer pain point today is finding hearty, convenient, and shareworthy products.

“They just want real food, and good food,” said Komo’s president Jeffrey Ma. “We don’t need to own another burger.. because there’s no way to really win in that space as a new company. I think it’d be really difficult to compete against Tyson Foods

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, Nestlé or Kraft, who all have their own plant-based meat brands.”

While natural herbs and spices are Komo’s primary ingredients for flavoring, lentils and other pea proteins are used in its lasagna and shepherd’s pie dishes to enhance their meaty texture, according to Ma, who also notes Komo’s plan is to launch into the U.S. market around Q1 or Q2 in 2022, and enters the confectionery category in the future, which “again falls into the plant-based comfort food category.”

“Obviously, a lot of desserts are comfort foods, so that’s one thing we are working on right now,” Ma said. “For now, we’ll stay in the frozen space just to streamline our distribution and storage.”

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