Loma Linda TUNO – a new canned tuna alternative made with non-GMO textured soy protein featuring long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from seaweed and algae – has been a big hit straight out of the blocks, said ANF innovation brand manager Laura Lapp.
“It’s been quite a wild ride. This last year we’ve gone from zero to 8,500 stores including Walmart, Jewel, Shaws, and Hannaford, and we’re also in the UK market, where we’ve had an even more positive reception. It’s really been amazing.
“We have oversaturation of beef substitute options but it’s still novel to have plant-based seafood options, and the reaction to TUNO has been extraordinary, people love it, that it tastes like the ocean with the fishy flavor from seaweed, but also that it has the omega-3s and less sodium.
“People know that fish is healthy for them so we have to be on point with the nutrition. We have a new rendition of TUNO that will be out in a few months with higher levels of protein and omega-3s, so it’s definitely on our radar.”
While sustainability might not be top of the list of purchase drivers for plant-based meats, the next generation of consumers is much more aware of overfishing and pollution, she said, making the safety and sustainability arguments for plant-based seafood increasingly compelling.
“I’ve seen in my children’s generation there is so much talk about overfishing and how we’re damaging the oceans and polluting them and so the sustainability element is going to be huge with plant-based seafood, I think.”
Convenience and affordability
What makes Loma Linda’s shelf-stable heat + eat pouches particularly attractive is price and convenience, she added.
“By far the Chipotle bowl is our best seller, and it’s on the shelf at Costco and they continue to reorder and reorder, so it’s amazing to think people are buying it by six-pack, so there is definitely a movement going. The Pad Thai and the Taco Filling are also doing very well and we’ve also switched the noodles in the Pad Thai and the Italian Bolognese meal to konjac noodles, so they're now gluten free.
“Loma Linda [which is forecasting 161% growth from 2018 to 2020] has been around for 100 years and we’ve always been about providing more affordable shelf stable and sustainable options, but the products we have now, most of them are heat and eat [microwaveable] in 60 seconds for a protein-packed meal, which is quicker and easier than cooking a veggie burger on a skillet.
“It’s ultra-convenient, you can just heat up the taco mix and have tacos straightaway.”
‘We would love to be in a section that says ‘plant-based’ above it’
Depending on the retailer, the pouches can be found in the prepared foods aisle, ethnic set or in the health set, she said. “We would love to be in a section that says ‘plant-based’ above it; that’s what we’re trying to create... a designated place on shelf where consumers can go and find products they trust.”
As for formulation goals, she said, Atlantic Natural Foods is “not trying to exactly mimic the taste and texture of meat,” and also has notably shorter and cleaner labels than many high profile brands in the plant-based arena, with the neat egg famously containing just two ingredients: Garbanzo beans and chia seeds.
“Consumers in this market want variety. One day it’s Loma Linda, another day they might want a [plant-based] burger that bleeds. We believe in creating the least processed, cleanest foods possible, but there is room for lots of different products and approaches in this market. Sometimes we’re reaching different consumers but sometimes we’re reaching the same consumers in a different setting.”
Neat egg company's fourth best-seller overall
Neat products (egg replacers, cookie mixes and meat alternatives which were originally developed in Lapp's kitchen) are now in more than 4,000 stores, and the brand is looking at exporting to the UK after achieving success in Australia (where the Loma Linda brand can be found in thousands of stores including Cole’s and Woolworths, with TUNO joining in September).
"The neat egg is now our fourth best selling item at Atlantic Natural Foods overall after the Chipotle bowl, Pad Thai and Taco filling, and again it's OK to have variety in the [egg alternatives] category. The neat egg (which is sold in the bakery aisle) is not meant to be a scrambled egg alternative [like Just Egg], it's meant to be used in baked goods where I actually think it performs better than a chicken egg.
"It's also shelf stable and really convenient, one pack has the equivalent of 18 eggs and we're finding it's not just being bought by vegans and vegetarians."
KIDS AND THE PLANT-BASED TREND:
How are parents incorporating plant-based alternatives into their children’s diets? And what are the nutritional implications? Hear from Michele DeKinder-Smith at Linkage Research & Consulting at the 2019 FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago. November 18-20.