Nestlé’s Sweet Earth: “Consumers in all places and points in their lives are interested in plant-based”
Today, the plant-based subsidiary of Nestlé introduces its Awesome Burger 2.0, an update on the original launched in 2019, and its Vegan Jumbo Hot Dogs – building on its recent launch of a plant-based jerky and the expansion of its Mindful Chik’n line-up in April.
“Consumers in all places and points in their lives are interested in plant-based, with 60%-plus saying they want to eat more plants and plant-based products … because they want to eat healthier. And for many that begins with meat reduction,” Sweet Earth Foods general manager Sara Wheeler told FoodNavigator-USA.
But, she adds, they also don’t want to sacrifice taste and they don’t want to miss out on loved eating experiences – like the summer barbeque – nor do they want to eat the same options day in and day out.
With that in mind, Wheeler said, Sweet Earth approaches plant-based innovation first from a health perspective by “making sure that what we’re building and what we’re creating for consumers really is a healthier option. And so, we think really carefully about the ingredients we’re choosing and the way consumers are going to incorporate these products into their diet so that we can offer them something that is nutrient dense.”
But while people may come to plant-based for their health, Sweet Earth wants to ensure they stay for the taste, which his why Wheeler says the brand aspires to make products that are nutritious but also “unbelievably delicious.”
The third fundamental factor in Sweet Earth’s approach to innovation is to offer consumers the variety they need to easily select plant-based at any occasion.
Through this lens, Wheeler said, the brand opted to renovate its cook-from-raw Awesome Burger and launch its Vegan Jumbo Hot Dogs – just in time for the summer cookouts.
Awesome Burger 2.0
The first version of the Awesome Burger featured more protein and fiber than other cook-from-raw plant-based frontrunners, including the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, and contained some vitamin C, iron and calcium. But it had similar levels of sodium and saturated fat, and relied on pea and vital wheat gluten for protein.
The Awesome Burger 2.0 - which doesn't contain wheat gluten - now contains comparable levels of protein (19g) to rival offerings, but has more protein variety by adding to its original pea protein base a blend of fava and hemp proteins. However, it still contains 7g saturated fat (vs 5g for the Beyond Burger and 8g for the Impossible Burger) and at 360mg has comparable levels of sodium to the Impossible Burger (370mg) and the Beyond Burger (350mg).
At 2g it has the same amount of fiber as the Beyond Burger (2g) and slightly less than the Impossible Burger (3g).
It has 300 calories per 4oz patty vs 240 for the Impossible Burger and 230 for the latest version of the Beyond Burger.
These tweaks create a renovated option that is “beefier and meatier” and answers consumer demand for protein from a wider variety of sources, Wheeler said.
“As consumers eat increasingly plant-based based, they are going to want a … variety of protein sources [and formats] in their diet – just as they would get if they were eating the animal equivalent of beef, chicken and deli."
Sweet Earth also is answering consumer demand for variety by launching more plant-based protein options, including its Vegan Jumbo Hot Dogs, which are made with a pea and potato protein blend and are 23% bigger than top competitors’ products.
Plant-based chicken ‘is a giant space’
Hamburgers and hotdogs might be the most requested items by consumers, but Sweet Earth sees significant market potential on the horizon for plant-based chicken – a relatively untapped segment in which the company recently expanded with the launch last month of three new ready-to-eat seasoned Mindful Chik’n options.
“The chicken part of the [plant-based meat analog] category, we think has a tremendous amount of potential, given its versatility in consumers’ lives. If you look at the animal analog category as a whole, [chicken] is a giant space – really the biggest space – and so we have a lot of energy that’s going up against chicken,” Wheeler said.
In April, Sweet Earth introduced two shredded Chik’n options marinated in a classic carnitas sauce and a Korean-BBQ sauce, and added Chipotle Chik’n Strips to its existing unseasoned Mindful Chik’n strips, which the company says continues to outperform expectations by growing 10 times the category.
“A strong part of the innovation that we feel really, really good about is we made it ready-to-eat, and so it is something that you can just throw on top of a salad like you would see in a restaurant,” Wheeler said.
“The shredded chicken was made from a love of tacos and knowing that tacos are such a key part of people’s lives,” but which also performs well in a slider, stir fry and other formats – illustrating the product’s versatility and convenience as an easy solution for multiple meals, she added.
Quick meals & snacks remain a cornerstone of Sweet Earth’s strategy
While most of Sweet Earth’s plant-based protein innovation is focused on center of the plate solutions, it also recently made its first foray into the shelf-stable snacking aisle with the launch of its vegan jerky, which packs 13 grams of portable plant-based protein into each serving.
While the line skips artificial flavors, it still offers consumers “really amazing spice,” in both the Spicy Kung Pau and Sweet Korean BBQ flavors, Wheeler said.
With the addition of the jerky, which is sold primarily in Kroger currently, to Sweet Earth’s plant-based protein line up, the company is able to meet the consumer where they are – on-the-go or at home, Wheeler said.
She added that all the new products build on the brand’s well-established foundation of plant-based products for all types of occasions.
“We know that ingredients like chicken and burgers and hot dogs are important, but we also need to have quick lunches to eat as we’re increasingly working at home. We also know we need snacks, like burritos, and pizza – another staple of our American lifestyle – for easy family dinners,” Wheeler said.
“People need to have solutions to meet different occasions. That’s why we’re make sure we spend equal energy and time on our burritos, bowls and pizzas – especially as the world has changed over the last year and we’ve increasingly needed meal solutions at home,” she added. “So, we’re really thinking about how we use our entire portfolio to do this.”