More companies rolling out food products blending animal and plant proteins

More Companies rolling out food products blending animal and plant proteins

‘Key is getting the textured plant protein right,’ says start-up founder

By Kathy Kerr

New products featuring a blend of animal and plant protein are ensuring that no consumer protein preference gets left behind.

Small and large players in the Canadian food industry are venturing into mixed protein products, dubbed blended, hybrid or fusion depending on the company. Proponents of the category say they hope to woo flexitarians (people who want to eat less meat.) These consumers don’t want to compromise on meaty taste but may be looking for more sustainability on the dinner table.

James Battershill, founder of blended animal-plant protein company Bump

James Battershill

Winnipeg startup Juno Food Labs has launched a ground meat blend with 75 per cent beef/25 per cent pea protein and is selling in a limited number of retailers in Manitoba. The product, called Bump, is produced at a federally inspected facility in Calgary, but isn’t yet available in Alberta.

Company founder James Battershill says Bump is aimed at the consumer who is reducing, but not eliminating, animal protein.

“We wanted to develop a product that really met the consumer’s expectation. They want a product that is as close, if not identical to, what they are conventionally eating,” says Battershill.

“The flexitarian consumer, where we’re trying to meet them, doesn’t necessarily want to make any sacrifice.”

Juno’s marketing boasts that Bump reduces the fat and the environmental impact compared to pure animal protein.

The company launched in a small, close-to-home market, says Battershill, but chose the Calgary co-packing facility (which he declines to name) so the brand can be rolled out nationally.

Most of Bump’s pea protein is sourced in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the beef is all-Canadian.

Bump blended beef and pea protein Ground beef is the beginning, says Battershill. Juno is also working on a blended sausage product and doing research on chicken blends. The firm is also considering other plant proteins beyond peas.

“We know to increase the nutrition and functionality for these blended meat products, the key is really to get the textured plant protein right,” says Battershill.

“We’re doing experiments with other novel plant proteins. Right now, we’re exclusively using peas but there’s an enormous number of plant proteins coming onto the market. We’re really excited about the opportunity they’re going to provide us for future product rollouts.”

So far, Bump employs two staff full time and five contract staff. The firm has contracted out its pea extrusion.

“We’re at the point we want to grow and bring on sales and marketing expertise and probably a chief technology officer to help oversee some of the R&D we’re expecting to do internally and with contract partners.”

COVID-19 slowed down the company’s planned expansion outside Manitoba. Battershill says he would like to be able to get into more grocery stores to offer product samples to shoppers.

At the other end of the food industry spectrum, huge food giants like Tyson Foods in the U.S. and Danish Crown in Europe are also rolling out a variety of blended products.

Maple Leaf Foods, pork and plant-based blended sausages Canada’s own meat juggernaut Maple Leaf has been offering its 50/50 blended burgers and sausage since June 2020.

A Maple Leaf statement says the fusion product is “a balance of meat and plant-based protein for Canadians who love meat protein but want to make sustainable food choices.

“By offering the taste and texture of traditional meat products, a simple and easy-to-understand list of ingredients, and 50 per cent of the meat, Maple Leaf 50/50 helps Canadians enjoy the foods they love, while feeling good about the choices they’ve made for their family and the planet.”

Sustainability, including the lower water requirements for plant protein and lower carbon emissions in its production, is a key consumer driver for the blended products.

Alberta beef producers don’t cede the sustainability high ground, arguing that beef production is sustainable, preserving important grassland habitat for many species.

“Cattle are up-cyclers,” says Cathy Sharp, a member of the Alberta Beef Producers board and co-chair of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association food policy committee.

Cathy Sharp, member of Alberta Beef Producers board

Cathy Sharp

Sharp says beef and peas can coexist quite comfortably.

“We can work together to allow Canadians to still enjoy their beef but also have a different eating experience by having pulses, peas, lentils mixed with their beef eating experience.”

And in Alberta, cattle producers often are also pulse growers.

“We’re a mixed agriculture operation in Alberta so we look at trying to be together and work together and, as new things start to come into marketplace, we work to see how we can help each other and the Canadian public choose a healthier eating option.”

The Cattlemen’s Association won’t comment on where retailers display blended and meat alternative products, says Sharp. But the association wants labelling to adhere to food and drug regulation legal definitions of beef and meat.

“The labelling and marketing of alternative protein products should not mislead or confuse consumers,” she says.

Sharp says time will tell if blended products have staying power in the marketplace. COVID-19 has changed consumption habits as more people cook at home, so it will take time before any long-term changes will be evident, she suggests.

Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University | Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA)

Sylvain Charlebois

Dalhousie University food-trend expert Sylvain Charlebois has doubts the blended product category will last.

“Whether or not these products actually have a future remains to be seen, just because you can make it at home quite easily,” says Charlebois.

He says consumers can mix lentils in with their meatloaf without paying a premium price.

“I think it’s capitalizing on something that is fashionable in the marketplace.”

Many of the major entrants in the blended product market have their roots in the meat industry.

“Strategically, it is good these companies realize they’re not animal protein companies. They’re protein companies,” says Charlebois. “They’re just trying to figure out how to market their new portfolio of products.”

Kathy Kerr is a freelance editor and writer.

Posted Nov. 19, 2020

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David Fielder, senior scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry