Actual Veggies’ produce-packed patties’ fast growth suggests alternative future for plant-based meat alternatives

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Actual Veggies
Source: Actual Veggies

Related tags plant-based meat Beyond meat Meat alternatives plant-based

The rapid growth of plant-based protein newcomer Actual Veggies suggests the sliding sales of alternative protein products that closely mimic their animal counterparts does not represent a lack of consumer interest in vegetarian and vegan options, but rather that shoppers’ preferences are evolving towards healthier, less-processed and whole food options.

In the nearly three years since co-founders Hailey Swartz and Jason Rosenbaum debuted their line of thick-cut, clean, veggie-packed patties in January 2021 they have consistently doubled their revenue annually following more than $1m earned in their first year.

In the same period, sales and volumes of some plant-based proteins that closely mimic animal products have slid from pandemic highs. For example, Beyond Meat announced this week that its second quarter revenue dropped 30.5% -- prompting it to lower its full year expectations from a projected $375m to $415m in revenues to a more modest $360m to $380m.

Vegetable-forward patties fill unmet center-of-plate need

Rosenbaum attributes Actual Veggies success in part to its differentiated offering of clean label, healthy patties that are larger than many competitors and offer a restaurant-quality eating experience that he says appeals to both plant-based eaters and omnivores.

“We started Actual Veggies towards the end of 2019 for health reasons. At that time, there were options that looked like beef, but the problem with most of those is they are very processed and they have oils in them and, honestly, not the cleanest ingredients. So, for me not eating meat for health reasons, those didn’t really work,”​ Rosenbaum said.

On the other end of the spectrum are classic veggie burgers that have less fat, but are still highly processed, have fillers and tend to be “very small patties, so they don’t really fill you up,”​ Rosenbaum said.

To fill the gap between these two choices, Rosenbaum worked with Swartz to create a better option packed with recognizable plant-based ingredients and “actual veggies” sourced directly from farmers. The result was a line up of ¼ inch thick, colorful burgers and breakfast patties.

The company began with a Purple Burger with beets, white beans and caramelized onions, and an Orange Burger with sweet potatoes, white beans and cauliflower. It recently expanded the line to include the Green Burger with broccoli, spinach and kale; the Black Burger with black beans, caramelize onion and parsnips; and Truffle Burger with shiitake mushrooms, white button mushrooms and black beans. It also offers a Blue Breakfast Burger made with blueberries, bananas and oats, and a Pink Breakfast Burger with bananas, strawberries and oats. All the patties have zero saturated fat, 7 to 9 grams of protein and 5 to 10 grams of fiber per serving.

DTC & QVC victories help win over brick-and-mortar retailers

The company’s savvy digital-first go-to-market strategy also helped the brand cultivate a loyal consumer base early in the pandemic when consumers were open to new products and new ways of shopping.

The burgers were originally sold DTC in bundles with each variety packed in a fresh style two-pack tray – a strategy that was eye-catching and reassuring to new consumers and allowed the company to offset shipping costs with orders at a feasible scale.

The DTC strategy also allowed the team to connect directly with consumers, who helped shape future launches.

The company expanded its reach and exposure through partnerships, including online retailers Hungryroot, Imperfect Foods, and Misfits Markets, as well as vegan meal kit brand Purple Carrot and, a bit surprising to some, premium animal protein delivery service ButcherBox.

An appearance on QVC home shopping channel gave the brand another bump – allowing it sell $75,000 worth of products in under eight minutes.

While filling an order of that size for a startup required planning, it also served as a proof of concept for brick-and-mortar stores – both that the company could handle large orders and that consumers wanted them.

Retailers including Kroger, Wegmans, and The Fresh Market stock the burgers, and the most recent addition of Whole Foods Market nationwide. The launch into Whole Food is like a dream come true, according to Rosenbaum and Swartz, who said the brand was originally created with the natural retailer in mind.

Larger boxes offer more marketing real estate, consumer value

To support the national launch of Actual Veggies in Whole Foods Market, the company revamped its packaging to better standout on shelf – be it in the fresh or frozen section.

Recognizing that retailers are scaling back on fresh space for alternative proteins and plant-based center-of-plate products, Actual Veggies created new boxes with four individually wrapped patties to feature more prominently in the freezer aisle than the two-pack created for the fresh section.

The new design features bright colors and a revitalized logo and product names that better  standout even through the freezer door and create a more effective brand block in the freezer section. The new design also calls out the main ingredients and flavor profiles, which are color-coded to better help consumers identify differences and find the product they want.

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