Lightlife’s new Chickpea and Red Pepper and White Bean and Kale Veggie Deli Slices proudly highlight the legumes and vegetables from which they derive their protein and refuse to cover their flavors with imitation meat flavoring like other vegan deli slices currently marketed as mock ham, turkey or roast beef.
“Our research shows us that people who are looking to eliminate or reduce animal protein from their diets are not always looking to replace the taste of animal protein. It seems to be split 50-50, which means you don’t always have to come up with something that tastes like a turkey or a ham. Sometimes, you can just celebrate the vegetables in the plant proteins that go into the product,” Brad Lahrman, director of marketing for Lightlife, told FoodNavigator-USA.
He adds by shining a spotlight on the plants that make up the slices, the new product will open the deli slice category to new consumers who shop the produce aisle but might reach for other types of plant-based proteins, such as hummus.
“We wanted to create something that is unique to our category, but that was still familiar to consumers. Chickpea and red pepper is clearly a play on hummus, so it is a fusion between two unique things that may cause consumers to take a second look at our category,” he said.
At the same time, the familiar format of the slices as well as packaging that mimics that of deli animal meat products clearly communicates to consumers how the product should be used.
“A person will use this as they would any deli slice – so either on its own or on crackers or in an actual sandwich, or even on a cobb salad,” he said.
In addition to expanding the consumer reach of the category, the new innovation also will increase Lightlife’s footprint in a growing category, Lahrman said. “The deli meat category is growing about 12% annually and about 17 cents of every dollar spent within the category is spent on plant-based deli meat.”
Lahrman’s use of the word “meat” to describe Lightlife’s plant-based products also is intentional. He says that along with no longer pretending to be imitation animal meats, plant-based proteins should reclaim the term meat.
“At Lightlife, it is a sin to call our products anything but meat. We look at ourselves as plant-based meat and Applegate as producing animal-based meat,” he said, adding failure to use the word “meat” to help consumers understand what products are and how they are used “has held the category back from exploding the same way that plant-based milk has. We have every right to use the term meat.”
Even as Lightlife celebrates the vegetables behind its new Veggie Deli Slices, it isn’t abandoning those consumers who do want imitation animal meat.
“At Lightlife we have plant-based turkey, plant-based pepperoni, ham and bologna, and they continue to do quite well. In fact, we just had a turkey launch at Walmart all around the country,” he said, acknowledging some people who come to plant-based proteins do so because they want to give up animal protein, but they don’t want to give up the flavor.
Other new products
Lightlife’s approach to recognizing the different reasons consumers come to plant-based proteins and their different needs also influenced its new line of frozen entrees that launched earlier this summer.
The line, which is all vegan and non-GMO verified, includes five bowls and two pastas – some of which replicate animal protein and some which simply celebrate eating plants, Larhman said.
The bowls includes three options that more closely mimic animal-proteins, including a teriyaki tempeh, a Mediterranean tempeh and a sweet potato shepherd’s pie that uses Lightlife’s plant-based ground beef. The two other bowls use traditional plant protein to create a chickpea curry and a Southwest quinoa and black bean combination.
“The pasta is the same story where one is a veggie sausage ravioli and the other one is a wild mushroom ravioli. So, we are trying to appeal to the person who wants the meat flavor and the person who loves vegetables and wants a vegetable option,” he said.
The tagline for the new frozen line is “heat with pride, because we don’t want consumers to make a trade-off between taste and health,” Larhman said. “We have it all wrapped in one product line.”
He added all the products have received tremendous reception from retailers who are thrilled to have a new line that check in-demand boxes of vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free for five of the products and all still taste delicious.
Looking forward, Larhman said Lightlife will continue to innovate along these same lines and with support from its new parent company Maple Leaf Foods, “the future is bright for our business.”