After decades of offering traditional deli fare, Canada’s largest packaged meat company is now stocking shelves with plant-based imitators like vegan bacon and veggie hot dogs.
Lightlife Foods, acquired by Mississauga-based Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in 2017, is rolling out nine of its top-selling plant-based protein alternatives to Canadian retail stores in August as part of its push to become a dominant player in the fast-growing space. Massachusetts-based Lightlife is already seeing “significant” double-digit growth in the U.S. and expects the segment will provide long-term growth in Canada, where it sees “tremendous opportunity,” said Dan Curtin, the company’s president.
“There’s the hardcore vegans, the hardcore vegetarians, but we’re seeing more and more flexitarians or reducetarians that are really looking for” plant-based options, Curtin said in a telephone interview, noting the products are being sold in retailers including Walmart Inc. and Canada’s Sobeys Inc.
Maple Leaf is just the latest major meat company that sees a future in plants. Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, in 2016 acquired 5 percent of vegan burger producer Beyond Meat, which has also gotten the backing of billionaire investor Bill Gates. Tyson has also invested in companies that make lab-grown meat. Consumers have grown more weary of traditional protein amid concerns about the environmental impact of the livestock industry, animal welfare and maintaining a healthy diet.
Maple Leaf acquired Lightlife for $140 million and Seattle-based Field Roast, which makes grain-based meat and vegan cheese products, for $120 million.
Global sales of plant-based meats are projected to soar 39 percent to $3.1 billion by 2022, compared with 20 percent for conventional meats, according to a December report from Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Diana Rosero-Pena and Kenneth Shea, who cited Euromonitor data. Substitute-meat sales increased an average of 9 percent a year since 2012, three times the rate of the processed-meat market, according to the report. Still, the segment represents less than 2 percent of the industry.
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