Last year, “was a tumultuous year for plant-based, [but] ... our point of view is plant-based is here to stay,” Lee said. “There are a few things that will differentiate those who will succeed in the marketplace and those that will face further consolidation. I think having a path to profitability is going to be very important. Gone are the days where ... there's this incredible wealth of VC funding — that funding will go away. So, brands [that] are operating with a path to profitability with operational efficiencies will end up surfacing to the top.”
Can licensed partnerships be an opportunity for plant-based?
Alpha Foods partnered with Aardman Animation on the release of a limited-edition recipe for its plant-based chicken nugget for the release of the children's film Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. The co-branded nuggets retail between $5.99-6.99 and will be available at Sprouts, Albertsons, H-E-B, Vons, and Stop & Shop stores nationwide starting in March.
Plant-based meat companies have released several co-branded retail products with entertainment companies, but they remain relatively rare compared to other segments, but the ones that launched have found market success, Lee noted.
Recently, Franklin Farms released a line of Disney-branded products, including its veggie burgers, tofu bites, and falafel balls. In 2022, Skinny Butcher partnered with Netflix to release plant-based chicken nuggets, which "drove four times the velocity in the category," Lee said.
Alpha Foods not only hopes to drive additional sales and attention to the brand through the partnership, but that the themes and message of the movie would inspire a greater conversation on the role of animal-based meat in society, Lee said.
“Kids should be informed enough to at least understand that chicken nuggets come from chicken and have a sense that what turning animals into meat entails, but also make it in a way that it's understandable," she said. "Having an exclusive partnership was such a beautiful telling tale is just going to open up that culture into the category and bring some positive light back.”
2024: Moving beyond a tumultuous year
After a year of headwinds, plant-based companies are finding new ways to boost profitability through focusing on foodservice channels, cost-cutting, rebranding, rationalizing their SKUs, and partnering up with other companies and brands. Alpha Food was acquired by LIVEKINDLY Collective last year and is already seeing synergies from the parent company's global capabilities, Lee noted.
“Being able to be part of a global structure allows us to have access to global R&D teams who are looking at pipeline technology three to five years into the future. We have more resources from a global synergy perspective. For example, we are looking at how to drive efficiencies in our supply chain, which will support our profitability profile and allow us to funnel the reinvestment into marketing [and] into sales. So, that becomes a flywheel for success and [drives] category growth.”
Additionally, the plant-based meat market is not unlike other markets that have gone through a hype cycle, Lee said. Plant-based companies that'll succeed will need to lean in on innovation, and Alpha Foods is doing that through its partnership with Aardman Animation and its ingredient partners like Just Egg, she added.
“When you think about the growth of plant-based versus total food in the long run — looking at 2023 figures versus 2019 — we're still outpacing total food and total frozen food. So, yes, there was a huge growth cycle that has been recalibrated, but ultimately, I think those that can pave the path to profitability, build foundations, come up with breakthrough innovations in the forms of partnerships, [and] come up with the best-in-class taste and texture, those are the ones that will prevail.”