Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend
Burned before, America’s biggest meat company gives faux burgers another try
There’s no other way to put it: Tyson Foods’s first attempt at an alt-meat burger was a flop.
Two years ago, the biggest U.S. meat company marketed a mix of real beef and pea protein to consumers with a “flexible diet.”
But the half-vegan, halfnot patty proved a tough sell. Tyson eventually discontinued it, saying only that it “constantly evaluates products.”
Now it’s back and trying again. On May 3, the maker of Jimmy Dean sausages unveiled a lineup of 100% vegan meat products including fresh patties, ground “beef,” fake bratwurst and Italian sausage.
It’s the company’s most ambitious bet on alternative proteins, and builds on recent moves by other meat giants, including JBS and Marfrig, to cash in on the rapidly growing market.
Tyson — and the rest of the conventional meat industry — face an uphill battle.
The alt-meat business is a crowded space with the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods dominating the market. Big Meat’s critics have been harsh.
Michele Simon, the founder and former executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, called Tyson “completely clueless.” Thomas George, president of an investment research company that focuses on millennials, said the meat industry is behind because it inherently doesn’t understand why consumers are turning to imitations.
“You’ll see them try, but they mostly fall flat on their faces,” George said of the meat companies’ past attempts.
Tyson is out to prove its detractors wrong. And for its part, the company acknowledges it’s early days.
“There’s so much opportunity still left,” David Ervin, vice president of alternative protein at Tyson, said in an interview. “We’ve seen unbelievable growth in this market, but know that we’ve only scratched the surface.”
For the meat giants of the world, winning the alt-meat race isn’t just an opportunity. It’s increasingly a fight for survival.
Consumers want protein, but they’re also concerned about their health and the environment, and plantbased meat is an answer to both. The market is forecast to grow to $450 billion and make up a quarter of the $1.8 trillion meat market by 2040, according to consulting firm Kearney, which also sees animal protein peaking in 2025.
The proliferation of veggie burgers from small, nimble competitors are proof of this shift. Vegan meats from Beyond and Impossible are now sold everywhere from Burger King to Target. In February, Beyond announced a threeyear deal with McDonald’s — one of Tyson’s biggest customers — as the preferred supplier of its new McPlant burger.
Along with the products announced May 3, the company has been quietly building out infrastructure globally to design, produce and distribute fake meat products. Tyson has already started selling into European markets and will expand into Asia in the coming months with product launches planned in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Australia.
Meanwhile JBS, the biggest meatpacker in the world, is considering a spinoff solely focused on plantbased meat. Marfrig Global Foods, another behemoth based in Brazil, is also reshuffling executives and drafting new strategies in the space that includes a partnership with crop trader Archer-Daniels-Midland.