In Session
pulses are a focus of plant-based product innovation Thinkstock/peangdao

Campbell's and Beyond Meat walk into a room ... and talk plant-based innovation

Plant-based foods have been trending for years and show no sign of slowing down. Leaders in this sector talk about what they prioritize when developing new products, how they market their products and reach the core consumer, and what they describe as a limitless supply of potential ingredients to work with. 

“The decisions about what you put at the center of your plate are far more important than the decisions you make regarding what type of light bulb you put in your house, what kind of car you drive, in terms of the impact on climate and sustainability of the globe."

—Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat

Part 1: What's important in a plant-based product?

Highlights:

  • Innovation is where the growth is. That’s not exclusively plant-based, but it’s a huge part of it.
  • Taste and texture are first and foremost. 
  • Beyond Meat approaches innovation by bringing together scientists, engineers and managers, funding them well and giving them a clear goal—to build meat directly from plants. 
  • There are more than 800 varieties of legumes available, and we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible. And then there are vegetable proteins. The sky’s the limit. 
  • Beyond Meat's leaders are excited about lupine, mustard seed, mung bean. A new product in the lab uses sunflower seed protein. 
  • The bulk of pulses are imported. That’s an opportunity for U.S. farmers that’s being missed right now. 

 

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Part 2: Target consumers, and how to reach them

Highlights:

  • There’s no question plant protein products should be less expensive. We will get there, likely sooner rather than later.
  • Product placement: integrating with conventional products is the best way to reach more—and more mainstream—consumers, as opposed to being placed in a dedicated section for vegetarian or vegan foods.
  • The flexitarian consumer is the target here—reaching people who aren’t going vegetarian, but want to cut down on their meat consumption or cut it out a few times a week. The key is just getting them to taste it, and see that they might like it as much as the meat equivalent. 

 

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Part 3: Looking ahead 

Highlights:

  • Clean labels, and simple ingredient lists, are crucial. 
  • The biggest food companies are getting involved in plant-based foods, but aren’t as nimble as smaller startups. Campbell’s can only move so quickly, and continues to look to the smaller players for innovation. 
  • Keep in mind the consumer who thinks innovation is great for their iPhones but don’t want to eat it or serve it to their families. 
  • The opportunities in the plant-based space—and the reasons people are coming to it, from flexitarianism to allergies to the smell of tuna keeping people from bringing it for lunch to work—are endless.

This session—Innovating with Plants: How to Take Advantage of White Space in the Market—was recorded at Natural Products Expo West 2018. 

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