CEO Darcey Macken - who worked in senior management roles at Kellogg and Noosa Yoghurt before taking the helm at Planterra in October 2019 – said competition in the plant-based meat category has heated up significantly in the past 12-18 months, as a flurry of established and new players have attempted to get a slice of the action.
“The competition is incredible. When we hear from buyers how many brands are presenting to them, it is astonishing, and because of covid, now there’s a backlog of products to decide between, so we’ve invested quite a bit in consumer insights to help buyers understand this category, whether it’s on flavor profiles, consumer segmentation, or shopping patterns.”
Frozen vs fresh
While much of the media attention has focused on new dedicated plant-based meat sets that now sit within the fresh meat case at several top retailers, the frozen set also has potential, said Macken.
“The number one question we were getting when we launched was, do you fully believe these products should be fresh, and we said of course absolutely, because we're building awareness, and that's where the traffic is, and where we knew we could convert some people or pique their interest, as most people are going to the meat aisle.
“However, we also want to increase real estate as well as buyer contact within the store, and we know that people are finally paying attention to the frozen aisle [a big winner during the pandemic] now.”
'I don’t believe most shoppers are walking into the store, saying, I have to go buy plant based meat...'
When it comes to plant-based sets in the fresh meat case, retailers recognize that they need to be there from a strategic perspective, although fresh plant-based meat doesn’t deliver the kind of turns or profitability as regular fresh meat, she said.
“If you look at incrementality, the future, and things that you have to make a bet on, retailers know that they have to be ahead of the curve, and that it makes sense to have some plant-based products in the meat case, because I don’t believe most shoppers are walking into the store, saying, I have to go buy plant based meat, it’s not top of mind.
“But people are open to it [and when they go to the meat case and see plant-based products] something triggers, and they say, ‘I've always wanted to try this’ or ‘I need something new in my repertoire.’
“So when it comes to consumer interest, it’s there, I just don’t think we’re yet offering the right products and really closing the gap and finding the right solutions for shoppers, because awareness and interest is high but household penetration is in the low single digits.”
Asked how OZO is performing in the fresh meat case, she said: “We’re not at the same velocities as Impossible and Beyond, but we're beating out the other brands. The challenge is awareness, if they’re [consumers] going to the shelf or making their lists and shopping online, they don't think of OZO first. But we’re bringing something incremental to the category.”
Taste, price, convenience… nutrition?
Made with textured pea protein, wheat gluten, and MycoTechnology’s pea and rice protein fermented by Shiitake mycelia (the roots of Shiitake mushrooms), the soy-free OZO product line has more protein, less saturated fat and fewer calories than 80% ground beef burgers and most rival plant-based offerings.
To place this in context, each 113g OZO burger contains more protein (22g vs 20g for the Beyond Burger, 19g for the Impossible Burger), a lot less saturated fat (2g vs 5g for the Beyond Burger, 8g for the Impossible Burger) and fewer calories (210 vs 230 for the Beyond Burger and 240 for the Impossible Burger).
But are consumers aware that OZO burgers have the lowest saturated fat in the category, and do they care? Are they primarily focused on taste, price, convenience, or are they starting to compare ingredients lists and Nutrition Facts panels?
“At the beginning we believed that going in with a true healthier option would set us apart, and we tried talking about this in a lot of different ways,” said Macken. “But what we've learned really in the past year and a half is that when people enter the plant based category they already believe they're doing something healthier.
“Then they need to make a choice [within the category], so we really have to dive in to what makes us unique on taste and convenience as well as health.”
OZO brand moving into the UK, Mexico, and Canada
So how does JBS think about its plant-based portfolio from a global perspective? Could OZO move into other markets, and how does it relate to the Vivera brand – which JBS acquired in April?
“The great news is that JBS is investing in plant based," said Macken. "They have a strong plant-based business in Brazil, and a strong proven business with Vivera [in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK], and with Planterra, we’re expanding OZO in Canada, Mexico and the UK, where we’re starting by exporting the product [from the US] until it’s proven, and if it’s a success, we’ll look at local manufacturing.
“And JBS is going to continue to look for M&A opportunities.”
OZO products are currently manufactured at a JBS facility in Riverside, California, and at a co-packer, but Planterra Foods is currently renovating a plant in Denver set to open in Q4, enabling it to do more in house, she said.
OZO products deliver a distinct taste and texture that sets them apart in the category, in part due to the inclusion of MycoTechnology’s pea and rice protein fermented by Shiitake mushroom mycelia, claims Planterra Foods, which has just struck a ‘master collaboration agreement’ with MycoTech – which is also based in Colorado – to explore new plant-based ingredients and product form factors.
“We are coming in a little late in the game," says CEO Darcey Macken, "so we knew we had to bring something different. By using this fermented Shiitake blend, it helps with flavor, and it improves the protein digestibility."
According to MycoTech CEO Alan Hahn: "The mycelium excrete enzymes and metabolites that break down the pea and rice protein strands and make them more bioavailable so your body can digest the amino acids."
Combining pea and rice proteins creates a balanced amino acid profile, while fermenting them with mushroom mycelium (roots) reduces their off tastes and aromas, improves their solubility, reduces chalkiness and grittiness, and boosts their oil- and water-holding capacity, enabling firms to create juicier burgers, claims MycoTech.
INGREDIENTS (fresh OZO burgers): Water, textured pea protein blend (textured pea protein, pea and rice protein fermented by shiitake mycelia, pea fiber), canola oil, sustainable palm oil, contains less than 2% of: steamed chickpea flour, pea protein powder, salt, vegetable and fruit juice (color), rosemary extract, yeast extract, natural flavor, methylcellulose.
NUTRITION: 22g protein, 11g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 210 calories