JBS, the world’s largest meat company, unveiled its first line of plant-based burgers and chorizo alternatives last week, joining Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in the crowded race to win over consumers with a plant-based source of protein.
The Brazilian meat giant originally planned to unveil the line of pea protein products under the brand name Ozo in April, but delayed the launch when the pandemic disrupted shelf resets at most grocers. They will debut on shelves at Albertsons and Safeway locations in Rocky Mountain states like Colorado and New Mexico, as well as at Kroger stores in 12 states.
Fears over meat supply shortages led to a new round of panic buying in April and May that pushed big grocers like Costco, Kroger and Texas chain H-E-B to limit customer’s meat purchases. For newcomers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, it became the ultimate test: If these proteins couldn’t prove themselves with consumers at such a crucial time, when could they?
Ozo and other plant-based foods are being developed by Planterra Foods, the new Colorado-based subsidiary of JBS USA. Planterra products are being stocked at a critical moment for plant-based foods, which have seen a rise in demand as meat supply fears had escalated considerably. With meat sales declining, plant-based foods surged, with refrigerated alternatives like Beyond and Impossible up 241 percent during the peak of meat panic-buying and rising another 113 percent since the end of April.
Meatpackers have been edging into the plant-based market for years. Tyson invested in Beyond Meat as early as 2016 and sold its 6.5 percent stake before the startup’s April 2019 initial public offering (IPO). Smithfield and Hormel followed later that year. Cargill announced in February that it would offer private-label plant-based protein to grocers that would first hit the shelves in April. Unlike Planterra, the pandemic didn’t delay the launch at three large retailers.
The plant-based food makers have also been looking to expand their reach globally as the pandemic and African swine fever in China created more widespread interest in non-meat proteins. Beyond Meat announced in early June that its burger would launch at some KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell locations in mainland China, while Cargill also expanded to the China market this month.
Beyond recently announced that it would reduce prices with summertime value packs to entice more customers to try its quarter-pounders through grilling season. Beyond is still around $1 more expensive than ground beef, while Impossible’s is more than double the per-pound price.
The price gap has narrowed slightly as pandemic-related production slowdowns force beef prices to new highs, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting an 11 percent increase in beef and veal prices in May, the largest-ever monthly increase, which has excited the plant-based protein industry.