Is this good news? Mainstream meat and dairy companies are investing in, and acquiring outright, plant-based food companies. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? Examples abound:
In July, France’s Danone, best known for its Dannon brand yogurt, bought WhiteWave and its subsidiary, So Delicious, which specializes in organic and plant-based alternatives to dairy products, in a deal worth $12.5 billion.
Beyond Meat sells plant protein that “looks, feels, tastes and acts like chicken without the cluck,” as the product packaging for its faux chicken reads. That was good enough for poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc., which acquired a 5% stake in the El Segundo-based vegan start-up Monday.
For Tyson Foods, the move is a fast way into a rapidly growing alternative-foods segment, which could account for as much as a third of worldwide protein consumption by mid-century with a market value of as much as $108 billion, according to Lux Research.
Even Boca Burger is owned by Kraft, and Gardein was recently acquired by Pinnacle Foods, which owns brands such as Armour Bacon. So the trend is clear. The question is “Is this a good thing and what will it mean for the future?” Commenting on Tyson’s recent investment, Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society’s vice president for farm animal protection, says, “We’re thrilled to see Tyson investing in the company. Americans want to diversify their protein sources with more of it coming from plants, and Tyson is positioned well to help them do that.”
Others agree and think that mainstream companies have the connections and extra bucks to take plant-based foods further and faster than they could have gotten on their own. Ultimately, the mainstream is where the growth is expected to come from in the veg world.
But still some uneasiness lingers. Many veg companies are choosing to keep their distance. While mainstream meat and dairy companies, seeing their potential, seem to have supported their new brands, they could have easily done otherwise. Time, as the saying goes, will tell what this will mean for the food vegetarians currently eat and enjoy.