Maple Leaf bullish on meat imitators for ‘flexitarians’
WINNIPEG After decades of offering traditional deli fare, Canada’s largest packaged meat company is now stocking shelves with plantbased imitators like vegan bacon and veggie hotdogs.
Lightlife Foods, acquired by Mississauga-based Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in 2017, is rolling out nine of its top-selling plant-based protein alternatives to Canadian stores in August as part of its push to become a dominant player in the fast-growing space.
Massachusetts-based Lightlife is already seeing “significant” double-digit growth in the U.S. and expects the segment will provide long-term growth in Canada, where it sees “tremendous opportunity,” said Dan Curtin, the company’s president.
“There’s the hardcore vegans, the hardcore vegetarians, but we’re seeing more and more flexitarians or reducetarians that are really looking for” plant-based options, Curtin said, noting the products are being sold in retailers including Walmart and Sobeys.
Maple Leaf is just the latest major meat company that sees a future in plants.
Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, in 2016 acquired five per cent of vegan burger producer Beyond Meat, which has also got the backing of billionaire investor Bill Gates. Tyson has also invested in companies that make lab-grown meat.
Consumers have grown more wary of traditional protein amid concerns about the environmental impact of the livestock industry, animal welfare and maintaining a healthy diet.
Maple Leaf acquired Lightlife for $140 million and Seattle-based Field Roast, which makes grainbased meat and vegan cheese products, for $120 million.
Global sales of plant-based meats are projected to soar 39 per cent to $3.1 billion by 2022, compared with 20 per cent for conventional meats, according to Euromonitor data.