“In the past, Dr. Praeger’s has always been more veggie focused,” offering products like it California Veggie Burger, which tastes like vegetables because it is made with carrots, onions, string beans, zucchini, broccoli and other vegetables in addition to bran, soybeans and spices, CEO Larry Praeger told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained the California Veggie Burger and other legacy products offered by the brand appeal to vegetarians, like his sister, who don’t like the taste of meat. They also helped set the brand apart from early mock-meats on the market that were more often than not soy- or gluten-based and trying to replicate the experience of animal-protein.
But, Praeger said, as more people embrace a flexitarian diet or are looking for plant-based proteins to replace animal-based options, the brand wanted to offer something with a similar mouth feel and nutritional profile.
The Pure Plant Protein line does this by packing in 9 grams to 28 grams of pea-based protein per serving. But each item also includes a heavy helping of vegetables, Praeger said.
“With our Pure Plant Protein line we really wanted … to do more of a hybrid and get some protein in the products, while still putting a lot of vegetables into the products so as to tie back to the DNA of the company,” he explained
As an example, he pointed to the new Sweet Heat Beet Burger, which is part of the Pure Plant Protein line, and includes 19 grams of plant protein and six different vegetables. The All American Veggie Burger leans more heavily on the protein with 28 grams per serving, but it still has four vegetables, including onions, sweet potato puree, butternut squash puree and carrot puree.
The new line also includes three Chick’n Tenders in barbecue, classic and Buffalo flavors, a breakfast meatless sausage and Super Greens Veggie Nuggets, which are more closely aligned with the legacy products but with an extra boost of plant-based protein.
Pea protein & avocado oil represent premium ingredients
All of the products use pea protein and avocado oil – two on-trend ingredients that are in line with the company’s vegetable focus, Praeger said.
But that is not the only reason that the company picked these key ingredients over other alternatives.
Praeger explained that his company selected pea protein as a primary ingredient because consumers are trying to move away from soy, as illustrated by the dramatic changes happening in the plant-based milk segment, and because the ingredient has a well-developed supply chain.
“After soy, pea is probably in the best supply position … and we really wanted to make sure we had a supply chain that we could feel comfortable launching items and going national without having to worry about an issue,” such as a shortage or delayed delivery, he explained.
Pea protein does come with several challenges, the most prominent being off-notes that can be hard to mask.
Dr.Praeger’s manages this by relying on bold flavors, like the spicy sharp heat of the Buffalo style tenders. But it also tries to source the best tasting, cleanest pea protein it can so that it doesn’t have off-notes from the beginning.
“We worked with a lot of different pea suppliers to find the right one. It is actually amazing how different one to the other can be. In fact, we just tried another one a few weeks ago to see how it would compare, and it wasn’t nearly as good,” he said.
The company was drawn to avocado oil for a similar reason – it offered a clean flavor that consumers like, he said. It also helped to “elevate the brand to the next level,” and set it apart from other animal protein analogues, he said.
More variety needed for sustained category growth
The broad range of the new line, as well as the existing products, underscores Dr. Praeger’s commitment to offering a variety of products can be consumed on a regular basis – making it a good fit for consumers who want to eat more plant-based meals.
“Over the past year or two awareness of plant-based eating and protein has really multiplied. I think half of consumers are looking to incorporate plant-based meals in their diet, and 60% are looking to do it once a week,” he said. And in order to pull that off, they need options that will keep them from becoming bored of feeling like they are missing out.
Similarly, by offering frozen foods that can be made quickly and easily, Dr. Praeger’s taps into the growing demand for convenience as well as the need for more nutritious and better-for-you frozen options, he added.
More than a fad food
Looking forward, Praeger said the brand will continue to innovate new products and platforms, and improve the quality of its products – something he says the overall plant-based industry needs to do in order to retain consumers’ attention and continue to build momentum behind the plant-based eating trend.
“When we started Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, the idea was the food wasn’t meant to be diet food that was some kind of fad and you ate it once and never again. It was meant to be part of a more healthful lifestyles and I think as we debut more and more items, there will be more and more people who come to the category,” he said. “I expect the growth of the category and company to be pretty strong.”