Will plant-based meat alternative trends help old-school purveyors too?

vegan burgers
CC BY 2.0 Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons | The vegan Amy Burger.

Whether it's Tyson investing in Beyond Meat, or White Castle embracing the Impossible Burger, there's a lot of buzz (and investment capital) around the new breed of plant-based meat alternatives.

So how do the old school purveyors of vegetarian and plant-based food products fare in this brave new world?

It would appear Quorn, at least—which has been making efforts to bolster its sustainability credentials—is thriving. According to a company press release, like-for-like sales were up 12% in the first half of 2018, compared to the same period in 2017. And that's after taking into account that 2017 was the brand's strongest ever year in terms of growth.

Now the company is announcing a £7 million investment in a new Global Innovation Centre at its company headquarters, which should allow it to continue developing products and recipes that provide would-be plant-based eaters and flexitarians with a larger range of meat-free options. CEO Kevin Brennan appears to see the growth in the sector as being a case of a rising tide lifting all ships, even for old school players:

“With category momentum we are confident we can become a $1bn business in under 10 years. We are seeing lots of Silicon Valley investment and hype in this space but we have already built up 30 years of expertise in the meat-free category. With our renewed investment in R&D we expect to lead the way for decades to come. We hope to demonstrate that there are great British businesses in the North that can win on a global stage. We are already seeing amazing growth internationally: Australian sales are up 50% and US sales are up 23%. In the US supermarket giant Kroger, we now have the fastest selling product in the category. With continued investment we believe we can continue this level of performance.”

Of course, all purveyors of plant-based meat alternatives are going to have to contend with efforts to restrict how they market themselves, but Quorn may be in good stead on this front too. I've never really seen it market itself as "meat"—plant-based or otherwise—so it will be interesting to see how it does compared to the newer, more aggressive brands that are seeking to position themselves as a direct replacement/analog.

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