Meat packers add plants to plate as consumers, competition shift

Thu Oct 13, 2016 8:00am EDT
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* Meat packers rebranding as protein companies

* 'Flexitarian' diners on the rise

* 'Vast opportunity for crazy profits' -investor

* Billionaire Bill Gates invests in plant protein companies

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Some major North American meat producers are clearing room on their plates for plant-based substitutes, hedging their bets as consumer tastes shift and high-tech startups seek to create meat alternatives that taste like the real thing.

The trend was highlighted on Monday when Tyson Foods Inc , the biggest U.S. chicken processor, took a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein maker partly backed by Bill Gates.

Other meat packers including Canada's Maple Leaf Foods Inc and German sausage-maker Rügenwalder Mühle are also stepping up production of "meats" made from peas, soy and other crops, predicting stronger sales growth for the segment than its traditional products.

"It's an incredibly hot area right now," said Adam Grogan, Maple Leaf's senior vice-president of marketing and innovation. "We view it as no different than chicken or pork. We view ourselves as a protein company first."   Continued...