(Recasts, adds analyst comment, share prices)
By Tina Bellon
June 13 (Reuters) - U.S. meat processor Tyson Foods Inc on Thursday launched its first vegetarian and mixed-protein products, including a beef and pea burger, as it seeks to compete with Beyond Meat and other companies catering to rising demand for plant-based alternatives to meat.
Tyson is betting that meat eaters wanting healthier diets will see their blend as offering a meat taste and vegetable health.
It joins other food companies vying for a share of the U.S. alternative meat market which analysts estimate to be worth $100 billion by 2035 as consumers seek to reduce meat consumption amid growing concerns over health risks and environmental hazards of industrial animal farming.
Tyson will sell blended protein burgers made from beef and pea protein, and sausages and meatballs that combine chicken with plants including chickpeas, black beans and quinoa, the company said in a statement. It also will offer vegetarian nuggets.
California upstarts Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Foods Inc each sell 100% plant-based meat alternatives to retailers and fast food chains across the United States.
Tyson sold its 6.5% stake in Beyond Meat in late April, just days before the company went public, to focus on the development of its own plant-based products.
Tyson shares were up around 1 percent at $82.65, while those of Beyond Meat were down 4.4 percent at $135.68.
Tyson’s plant-centered products, under its new Raised & Rooted brand, will be sold through its customers, sales outlets and foodservice operators, Justin Whitmore, head of Tyson’s alternative protein business, said in an interview, declining to elaborate.
The largest U.S. meat processor, known for its Ball Park hot dogs and Jimmy Dean sausages, will launch the nuggets in the summer and the blended burgers in the fall.
Whitmore said it was too early to estimate revenues, calling Tyson’s plant-based business highly incremental, but he noted that could change.
“The double-digit growth in the sector is largely driven by meat eaters who want the health and nutrition that they perceive to come from plants along with the taste they’ve always had from animal protein,” Whitmore said, adding that the company was working on additional plant-based products.
Analysts at Mizuho Securities USA cast doubt on the company’s blended protein approach.
“We’re less confident in blended meat/plant products as we believe in the early stages of alternative meat, consumers want to make a simple binary decision between eating meat or not,” the analysts said in a note.
Tyson Chief Executive Noel White said in a statement the company remained firmly committed to expanding its traditional meat business, but is shifting toward becoming a protein company.
Other companies following a similar path include Canadian packaged meat producer Maple Leaf Foods Inc, whose vegan “ground beef” and burger patties, sold under its LightLife brand, will be on U.S. store shelves this summer.
Nestle, the world’s biggest packaged foods group, is aiming to sell a pea-based veggie patty called Awesome Burger under its U.S. plant-based Sweet Earth brand in the fall. (Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Susan Thomas)