Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as part of our plant-based diets special edition, Potvin said the Gardein meat-free brand is now worth $100m, just five years after launching in the US as a retail brand, and is still growing at 35% year-on-year.
“Not so long ago, alternative dairy products such as soy and almond milk were considered niche,” he observed. “Look at them now.
“Meat alternatives are also going mainstream. More than a third of Americans (36%) buy meat alternatives now, according to Mintel, and I think this category could easily double in the next 10-15 years.”
But what makes him so sure?
Lots of reasons - higher costs for meat and dairy protein, rising concerns about health and sustainability - he said. But mainly because Millennials - a target demographic for Gardein - just don’t see meat-alternatives the way their parents did.
To them, claimed Potvin, Gardein products are just part of the regular diet, not something just for vegetarians or vegans.
“I think it’s a natural evolution."
Gardein meat-free brand is worth $100m at retail, growing 35% YoY
And right now, he said, Gardein is driving growth in the category: “Many of the traditional players seem to have slowed down or even gone backwards, but we are gaining momentum in retail, club and foodservice.”
In fact, he claimed, “Most of the growth in the category is coming from us. We posted 35% growth in 2013 vs 2012 and we are budgeting for the some level of growth in 2014. We’re also seeing strong growth from Hispanic and African American consumers.
“We’re in 20,000 stores now including many mass market players. Every retailer is different but Kroger is expanding [the space it allocates to meat-alternatives], Walmart is and so is Whole Foods Market. We’ve been in Walmart for about six months and it’s going really well.”
We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves
But he added: “It’s tough to define and position some of our products - we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. It’s more about [targeting people that are following] a certain lifestyle.
“For example, we do better when we are merchandized in the main frozen aisle than in natural sections of stores, as some people that would buy our brand walk straight past the natural section.
“What’s unusual about our products is that when people try them, they buy them again [the conversion rate is 45%] which is why we do a lot of promotions with coupons to encourage trial.
“The challenge is that there is still a stigma; there are people that haven’t tried meat alternatives for a few years, and then they try our products and say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know they tasted this good’. We just have to get people to try them.”
We’re doing some tests with leading burger chains
So what’s in store for 2014?
Several new products will be unveiled at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim in March, he said, while the firm has just launched new gluten-free products.
It is also aiming to go 100% Non-GMO - and is going through the certification process with the Non-GMO Project.
However, this takes time, he said: “We’ve always used non-GMO identity-preserved soy, but there are so many other ingredients that present challenges - flavors, yeasts, various vegetable oils. We’re around 90% there at the moment.”
However the big untapped opportunity for meat-alternatives right now is in foodservice, he said, with sales of Gardein products growing 50% YoY in this market.
“We’re doing some tests now with major brands/burger chains with names that we all recognize.”
For meat and veggie lovers alike
While Gardein has several meat-free burgers, it also sells a wide range of other options for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, from wings, tenders, crispy fingers, cutlets, riblets, meatballs and tenders to sliders, breakfast sandwiches and scallopini.
The Gardein brand, meanwhile, is designed to appeal to everyone from die-hard vegans to meat-lovers that want to replace beef in a stir fry or breakfast sandwich once or twice a week with something a little healthier (the strapline is ‘for meat and veggie lovers alike’).
Click here to read our interview with Vege USA.