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Innovation and sustainability: Conventional food companies' 2021 plans

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Natural retailers will find more plant-based protein options for their refrigerated and freezer sections, food companies announced at CAGNY.

Agility and innovation were the buzzwords during this year's virtual Consumer Analysts Group of New York meeting—at least for the conventional food companies we had an eye on.

In their pre-recorded presentations, executives generally highlighted how their companies reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, their financial results and their goals regarding environmental and social issues. Of the seven presentations we watched, four companies offered information most relevant for natural retailers.

 General Mills Nature Valley recyclable wrapper

General Mills

"We work hard to make sure our brands stay relevant to consumers' ever-changing needs and demands. Staying relevant requires clear communication about each brand's purpose and meaning. We do this because know that brands with purpose deliver stronger business results." —Jeff Harmening, chairman and CEO

In wanting to be a force for good, General Mills has four priorities:

  • Regenerating the planet.
  • Improving food insecurity.
  • Strengthening communities.
  • Advancing inclusion among its executives and employees.

"These are areas where General Mills can have a real impact, and they're inherently tied to the success and sustainability of our business," Harmening said.

Highlight: Nature Valley is launching the first plastic snack-bar wrapper that can be recycled with plastic bags at retailers' drop-off bins.  



"We know that sustainability matters more to people than ever before, and that young people, in particular, they feel that it's time for business and brands to show more responsibility." —Alan Jope, CEO

Unilever expects to see strong growth in skin care, prestige beauty, functional nutrition and plant-based foods, with much of that growth come from acquisitions, Jope said.

However, the company uses science and technology to make its products more sustainable: Its plant-protein structuring ability gives the company's vegan, vegetarian and alternative meat products "superior taste and texture," he said.

  Conagra new frozen 2021


"We're focused on serving our customers and delivering growth for our shareholders while continuing to foster inclusion, support our local communities and make a difference for our environment." —Sean Connolly, president and CEO

Consumers have eating more frozen food, particularly ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat foods, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of consumers who are new to buying Conagra products, 45% are millennials or Gen Zers.

Highlight: New Gardein plant-based products scheduled for release include Ultimate Plant-Based Chick'n filets and nuggets; Ultimate burgers in black bean, falafel and chickpea varieties; and plant-based chili, with and without beans.

 Kellogg Incogmeato new 2021


"We enter '21 with a strong pipeline of launches for this year and for years to come, centered on the key areas of taste, well-being and plant-based protein, all of which are areas in which we have the expertise, the brands and the food to win in the marketplace." —Nigel Hughes, senior vice president, Global Research and Development

Consumers are more interested in health and well-being, and Kellogg is fulfilling that demand with new zero- or no-sugar variations of its products, as well as keto-friendly and plant-based proteins.

Highlight: Incogmeato, a plant-based meat alternative under the Morningstar Farms brand, will add Chik'n Nuggets and Bites, burger patties and Italian Sausage to its line.

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