The US plant-based meat market is becoming increasingly competitive, with legacy brands from Lightlife to Tofurky now jostling for space with food tech brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods; CPG giants such as Nestlé, Conagra, Kellogg and Kraft Heinz; meat giants such as Smithfield, JBS and Tyson; and a flurry of startups.
However, there is still room for new players with a strong brand and a proven track record in other markets, insists Alexandre Ruberti, a high-flying exec at Red Bull who was persuaded to ditch energy drinks for plant-based meat by Future Farm founder Marcos Leta, who recruited Ruberti in February to spearhead the brand's US launch.
Launched in Brazil in 2019 by Leta and business partner Alfredo Strechinsky, Future Farm products are sold in 10,000+ retail locations in Brazil (where the firm claims to have garnered a 25% share of the total burger category in leading retailer Pão de Açúcar) and several other markets from the UK to the United Arab Emirates, where it claims to be outperforming Beyond Meat at supermarket chain Carrefour.
Having our own plant means we have more flexibility
So how will the logistics work for Future Farm's (Fazenda Futuro's) US debut?
The firm – which has raised $29.8m to date from investors including BGT Pactual, Go4It Capital, and Monashees - has teamed up with California-based Superior Foods to handle frozen distribution to retail and foodservice markets in the US, said Ruberti, who is also building a direct-to-consumer platform for the US market launching in September.
The company will debut this month with four products (Future Burger, Future Sausage, Future Beef and Future Meatballs) but has other products in the pipeline including chicken, hot dogs and tuna, Ruberti told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Having our own plant [the products for the US market will be manufactured in-house in Brazil] means we have more flexibility for innovations, we can move faster, so this is what we want to bring here to the US market, partnering with retailers, understanding their needs, putting innovation on the table faster than the competition.
"We can expand up to nine times of the production that we're doing now, and we're super flexible, so if we have to co-pack, we can do that too.
“A month ago, we had meetings with Whole Foods in Canada and we're going to be listed there in late November.”
A strong brand and compelling taste and texture are what drives trial and repeat purchase
Future Farm products have a short ingredients list, utilizing a base of non-GMO soy protein, pea protein, and chickpea flour; coupled with coconut and canola oil; natural flavor, methylcellulose, salt, and beet powder for color.
The Future Burger launching in the US (SRP $5.29 – which is competitive with Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods) has more fiber (6g), less sodium (250g) and fewer calories (220) than most US rivals, although it has slightly more saturated fat (11g vs 8g for the Impossible Burger and 5g for the Beyond Burger) and slightly less protein (16g vs a more typical 19-20g).
However, later iterations currently under development will have less saturated fat, said Ruberti. "The key is reducing fat without [negatively] affecting flavor and texture, but we are almost there."
While a strong nutritional profile and a clean ingredients deck are important in the category to make people feel good about their choices, compelling taste and texture, and strong brand are what ultimately drives trial and repeat purchase, he said, highlighting the success the brand has had in Brazil engaging young consumers on social media platforms such as Instagram.
“I think marketing is going to be a key differentiator for us.”
While there is a lot of hype surrounding the plant-based meat category, the addressable market is so large that capturing even a small percentage of it represents a "huge opportunity," he said.
“I remember 16 years ago [when he left Coca-Cola to join Red Bull], energy drinks were almost nothing compared to the total beverage market, but nowadays in convenience stores, they sell more than Coke, so I do think that we do have a lot of space to grow here.”
US retail sales of plant-based meat rose 45% to $1.4bn in the 52 weeks to December 27, 2020 in measured channels, outpacing sale growth in conventional meat, although the latter (far larger and more mature) market also grew in double digits over the period, according to SPINS data.
The strongest growth was generated by higher-value ‘next generation’ refrigerated plant-based meat products (+75%), while frozen plant-based meat sales were up 30%.
Plant-based meat now accounts for 2.7% of dollar sales of retail packaged meat, with US household penetration rising from 14% in 2019 to 18% in 2020.
Sales of plant-based seafood – a market expected to grow significantly in the coming years, albeit off a tiny base - rose 23% to $12m.
Some commentators believe a disproportionate amount of money, time, and column inches is being devoted to plant-based meat, given its tiny share of the market. However, others point out that the trajectory is clear, with leading CPG brands from Nestlé to Unilever and Danone; huge meat companies from Tyson to JBS; the world’s biggest foodservice brands from McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC to Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Dominos; and leading retailers such as Kroger and Tesco all placing big bets on alt meat over the past 12 months.