Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods put plant-based food on the map by making meatless patties that "bleed." But now traditional food giants Hormel, Kellogg's, Kroger, Smithfield, Tyson and others are all jumping into realistic alternative proteins, making recent announcements of new products and investments they've made to take a bite of the market. 

 

Their forays are likely to propel fake meat into the mainstream. Beyond Meat crushed analysts' expectations earlier this year when its stock price soared 160% in its public debut from its offering price of $25 per share — despite the startup never turning a profit

Part of the allure is the rapid growth of the market for alternative proteins. Faux meat is projected to reach 10% of the $1.4 trillion global meat market in the next decade, according to Barclay's analysts. Even big fast-food chains want in on the action, with Burger King partnering with Impossible Foods last month to debut a limited nationwide launch of meatless Whoppers.

"When you've got the largest meat companies in the world effectively reconstituting as protein companies, and launching plant-based meat products, that is transitional and is a huge boon for the entire plant-based meat market," said Bruce Friedrich, executive director at the Good Food Institute, which advocates for the plant-based food industry. Its conference this week drew executives and representatives from several food giants, including Kroger, Perdue and Tyson.

Here's a roundup of who's buying whom — and which products will soon be available in stores: 

Tyson: More than chicken, it's a "protein company" now  

Tyson on Thursday said it's investing in New Wave Foods, an alternative seafood startup that makes faux shrimp from seaweed and plant protein. It's not the first foray into alternative proteins for the nation's largest meat producer, which wants to redefine itself as a "protein company" to cater to customers increasingly seeking out meat alternatives.

New Wave Foods is the first plant-based seafood company Tyson is adding to its growing portfolio of alternative protein companies, which includes mushroom-based protein maker MycoTechnology. It's also sinking its teeth into lab-grown meat, which is in development at "clean meat" startups Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies. (Lab-grown meat, however, is not yet available for commercial consumption until it is proven safe to eat.) 

In June, Tyson announced a line of plant-based nuggets and blended burgers made with beef and plants as part of its new "Raised & Rooted" brand, which incorporates pea protein isolate. Both Beyond Meat and alternative milk company Ripple rely on pea protein as a key ingredient that's also gaining in popularity with consumers who want to avoid soy as an allergen.  

 

Tyson previously held a 6.5% stake in Beyond Meat, but sold it before the alternative meat startup went public earlier this year. Beyond Meat shares are currently trading 560% higher than their initial offering price of $25 per share.

Hormel: Yes, the maker of Spam is now into fake meat

Hormel Foods, perhaps best known for making Spam, on Wednesday debuted its plant-based and blended-protein brand Happy Little Plants. Its first product is a soy-based ground beef alternative that will be distributed this week in select retail outlets. 

Minnesota-based Hormel has already developed a couple of plant-based items, including a meatless burger in 2014. It also has an Applegate-branded blended burger that combines organic meat with organic mushrooms, and a line of plant-based pizza topping items produced at its Burke subsidiary. 

Kroger: Plant-based protein goes private label 

Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, on Thursday said it will start a new plant-based product line this fall under its Simple Truth brand. The new offerings will include meatless burger patties as well as plant-based cookie dough, pasta sauces, deli slices, dips and other items. 

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based retailer, which has more than 2,700 locations, said new products under the plant-based banner will be available in stores every month this fall through 2020. A Kroger spokeswoman also confirmed that the plant-based products will be stocked in supermarkets next to their animal and dairy counterparts. That's similar to Beyond Meat's strategy of getting placement in meat cases with the hope of winning over meat lovers. 

Advocates of the plant-based food industry say that plant-based proteins can mirror the trajectory of the organic market. For instance, shoppers browsing cheeses can increasingly choose between varieties that meet dietary needs, finding cheeses that are organic or vegan stocked side-by-side with traditional dairy-made cheese.

Kellogg's: They call it "Incogmeato"

MorningStar Farms, which is owned by Michigan-based Kellogg's, has long reigned in the freezer section with traditional veggie patties catering to vegetarians and vegans. On Wednesday, the company said it will roll out a new line of realistic alternatives next year under the punny brand name "Incogmeato." 

The new products will directly compete with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, which upended the meatless industry by creating products that "bleed" like real meat.

"It grills like meat. It bleeds like meat. It tastes like meat, and we're very excited," Kellogg's CEO Steve Cahillane told an audience at this week's Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference in Boston. "We think we have a right to win in this space." 

MorningStar General Manager Sara Young said in a statement that growing ranks of flexitarians — consumers who eat both meat-based and vegetarian dishes — "are still seeking the amazing taste, texture and sizzling qualities of meat but want a better alternative for themselves and the planet." 

 

Incogmeato is taking a leaf directly out of Beyond Meat's playbook by positioning its new soy-based burger patties in refrigerated meat cases as well as by selling directly to restaurants. Its plant-based chicken nuggets and tenders will be sold in the freezer section next to traditional chicken products.

Smithfield Foods, Perdue Farms, Cargill and more

Other food giants that have recently launched plant-based proteins include Smithfield Foods, the world's largest producer of pork. In August, Smithfield debuted eight soy-based foods, including burger patties, breakfast patties and meatballs. 

JBS, the Brazil-based company that beats out Tyson as the world's top meat producer, in May created a new plant-based burger crafted from soy, wheat, garlic, onions and beetroot. 

Perdue Farms in June rolled out a line of blended cauliflower, chickpea and chicken nuggets to "help parents put an end to the 'eat your vegetables' battle." 

And agriculture giant Cargill last week announced a $75 million investment into pea protein company Puris, which is the main supplier for Beyond Meat. 

"Corporations like Tyson, Smithfield and Hormel, they are massive and they have an incredibly broad and loyal consumer base," GFI's Friedrich said. "And as they start to create plant-based meat products, they can reach people who are not the early adopters."