Is Faux Turkey Finally Vegan-Approved for Thanksgiving?

Is Faux Turkey Finally Vegan-Approved for Thanksgiving?
Tofurky’s Holiday Roast/courtesy

Fake meat has become an increasingly available option as real meat costs continue to rise due to supply-chain disruptions and the greatest inflation in decades, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Even though only 5% of the American population considers themselves vegan or vegetarian, demand for plant-based meat has significantly increased in recent years. Flexitarians, or meat-eaters who are also adding more plant-based alternatives due to health and sustainability concerns, are driving the category’s rise.

When you factor in the high expense of turkey for the holidays, which is up more than 20% year over year, plant-based holiday centerpieces could gain traction this season. In the United States this year, a typical turkey for eight might cost anywhere from $20 to $40, depending on region; most plant-based alternatives are under $16, and those producers say their prices have not moved considerably since 2020. So this holiday season, faux-meat makers have a real chance to gain traction at the Thanksgiving table.

However, there are several red flags for plant-based companies. Sales at Beyond Meat Inc. dropped in the third quarter as demand stalled. According to Chief Executive Officer Michael McCain, Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Canada’s largest food processor, announced in early November that it was “seeing a noticeable slowdown in the plant-based protein category performance,” necessitating a review of its strategy.

Bloomberg conducted a taste test of nine Thanksgiving roast imitators in 2019. The results were mixed, but the conclusion was clear: Turkey producers had nothing to fear back then because demand and science were not yet at a point where they could truly drive innovation.

Things are different this year. Consumers are willing to give fake turkeys a second opportunity due to rising turkey prices due to inflation, supply-chain interruptions, and the increased availability of synthetic meat items. However, not a single company updated its fake turkey formula for this Thanksgiving, instead opting to expand their product portfolios and production capacities in order to attract new clients. In other words, the artificial flesh hasn’t changed all that much, but the client base has.

Bob Nolan, senior vice president of insights and analytics at Conagra Brands Inc., which produces the popular plant-based Gardein Holiday Roast, said, “They’re seeking for premium products.” Flexitarian households, who accounted for 85 percent of Gardein’s revenue growth this year, will not be satisfied with a standard vegan burger patty, he said.

“The bar was raised with Beyond and Impossible. “Consumers increasingly expect to find healthier plant-based solutions that don’t sacrifice taste or experience,” said Darren Seifer, NPD Group’s food and beverage sector analyst.

Plant-based turkey isn’t certain to appeal to all flexitarians because it hasn’t yet been developed to replicate the fibrous muscle of a real bird. “We aren’t at the point where plant-based turkey will be identical to turkey.” “Not even close,” Mitchell Scott, co-founder of The Very Good Food Firm Inc., a public company based in British Columbia that produces plant-based foods, said. Nonetheless, rising holiday meat prices may encourage customers to try a product they had previously avoided.

For Thanksgiving 2017, their Very Good Butchers line began selling “Stuffed Beast,” a turkey that, at $40, is on pace with, if not more expensive than, its meat-based counterpart, depending on the market. The company made a few hundred dollars in its first year and quickly sold out. It made 9,000 last year; this year, it’s around 35,000.

A taste test revealed that this product was of superior quality to many other fake turkeys. The roast is flecked with organic carrots and yams and wrapped with twine, and it has the oniony flavor of a very bready stuffing recipe.

Tofurky, another major competitor, is upbeat about the market based on sales so far this year. It’s been made by the same firm since 1980, and the first plant-based holiday roast was released in 1995. The family-owned firm currently offers a roast with gravy and a “ham” roast, among other specialized items.

“Last year, Tofurky witnessed a 631 percent increase in plant-based ham roast sales, and the holiday feast saw a 126 percent increase,” said CEO Jaime Athos. As a result, Tofurky is now tracking 25% ahead of cumulative orders shipped at this time last year.

Tofurky’s Thanksgiving centerpiece hasn’t been modified in years, opting instead to evoke nostalgia with the holiday roast. It has a sticky texture and a salty flavor that transports you to another age.

Chicken, according to most observers, is the next big thing in the plant-based meat business. This year, Kellogg Co., Conagra, Maple Leaf, and Beyond Meat all released chicken products. However, the latter’s chicken tender launch was delayed and underwhelming, which some saw as a portent of an impending industry recession.

Despite this, there appears to be a lot of interest in plant-based turkey this time of year.

“We’re expecting around a 20% increase in sales of Field Roast this year alone.” “If we could make more, we’d sell more,” said Adam Grogan, chief operating officer of Greenleaf Foods SPC, a Maple Leaf Foods affiliate. However, because Greenleaf’s product cannot be widely automated, the main barrier to further production is manpower shortages, not supply-chain issues.

Smaller businesses, such as Herbivorous Butcher in Minnesota, are having similar issues. The company began selling its turkey-free feast in 2014, and while demand has increased, CEO Kale Walch’s company has been unable to capitalize on this year’s chance due to a lack of production capacity. Herbivorous Butcher had preparations in place for a much larger production facility when Covid-19 struck, and funding became scarce.

“Every year, we stretch ourselves thin,” he remarked. “Every year, we have to set a limit on orders.”

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