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Tyson debuts meatless grill offerings

by Nathan Owens | May 4, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009, file photo, a Tyson Foods, Inc., truck is parked at a food warehouse in Little Rock.

Tyson Foods seems to have learned its lesson in the alternative protein space: Blended burgers are not the way, vegan products are.

The Springdale-based company on Monday debuted its first plant-based burgers and sausages ahead of the summer grilling season, heating up competition with Beyond Meat as it releases an updated version of its own imitation burger.

Producers are seeking to increase sales of plant-based items as covid-19 vaccinations encourage more people to eat at restaurants and gather for cookouts and other events.

Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other key players are positioned to meet consumer demands for more climate-friendly diets, but recently sales have slowed as the plant-based trend cools, sources told Reuters last month.

Tyson Foods made its first splash in the growing sector with plant-based and blended products -- comprised of both meat and plants. Tyson's Raised & Rooted brand has since redirected its focus toward making only products made of plants. The brand is adding burger patties, bratwurst, Italian sausage and ground "meat" made from pea protein to its offerings, according to a news release.

"Our products are plants made meatier, and deliver the same delicious flavors, in a better-for-you alternative," David Ervin, Raised & Rooted vice president of marketing, said in a written statement. "We are excited to provide people with satisfying alternative protein options perfect for any occasion."

The burgers will be sold in packages of two quarter-pound patties at a suggested retail price of $4.99.

Tyson introduced its Raised & Rooted brand in 2019, when it rolled out blended burgers made of Angus beef and plants, as well as nuggets that had egg whites on the ingredient label. Executives sold investors on the idea that consumers wanted traditional meat "and" plant-based products; it wasn't an "or" situation. Meanwhile, they faced backlash from customers concerned about Tyson's use of animal products in plant-based nuggets.

With experimental products, companies run the risk of developing things that don't resonate with their audiences, said Martin Thoma, principal at Thoma Thoma marketing agency in Little Rock. Hybrid goods, in particular, could be made with the intention of catering to both audiences and fail in application, he said.

Tyson eliminated eggs from its nugget recipe in December and discontinued its line of blended burgers because of declining sales. Tyson spokesman Caroline Ahn said that the company wanted to focus on its growth in the "all plant space." The company's Raised & Rooted brand went vegan.

As more people pay attention to growing research about the health and environmental benefits of eating a plant-based diet, Thoma said the trend is only going to continue gathering steam.

"We all still like meat and these plant-based replacements are continuing to grow into desirable, nutritional options" he said.

Beyond Meat, once supported by Tyson as an investor, announced on April 27 plans to roll out its "meatier" plant-based burger nationwide this week.

Packages of two quarter-pound patties have a suggested retail price of $5.99, while new packs of four patties have a suggested price of $9.99, according to the company. Beyond Meat also sells plant-based bratwurst and Italian sausage.

Its updated burger is marketed as juicier and "BBQ-ier" than previous versions. Each serving has 20 grams of protein, compared with 21 grams per serving for Tyson's burger.

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