Blended or hybrid products refer to conventional meat items such as nuggets or meatballs which are infused with plant proteins to convey additional health and/or taste benefits. Although this is theoretically an easier route to take to hit goals such as price parity, the category has received far less attention in Asia as compared to plant-based meats – but the Better Meat Co is looking to change that.
“Our target consumers in Asia with the hybrid product category are not plant-based, vegans or vegetarians but instead meat eaters who are looking for a more balanced, healthier diet,” Better Meat Co CEO and Co-Founder Paul Shapiro told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Although the popularity of plant-based products is getting higher worldwide, it is also a fact that nine out of 10 people, which is a massive portion of society, continues to want to eat meat, so it made sense for us to target this group.
“To illustrate, what we’re doing is not attempting to create an electric car like a Tesla, but for people who still want to drive gasoline cars (which is the majority), help them with a hybrid option such as a Prius.”
Adding plant proteins to meat products increases nutritional value by reducing saturated fat, cholesterol levels, calories and adding fibre, and the key for the firm has to make the addition of these proteins as undetectable as possible.
“We use a combination of pea, soy, bamboo and psyllium as the base, and will tailor this in terms of flavouring and fibres to mimic the meat [meant for hybridisation],” he said.
“It is made to look, smell and look the same as the target product, e.g. chicken nuggets but in our partnership with Perdue Foods which makes the Chicken Plus hybrid nuggets, it has been found that consumers tend to prefer the taste of the blended nuggets.”
Perdue Farms is one of the biggest meat processing firms in the United States, and its Chicken Plus nuggets made of 50% chicken and 50% plant proteins have achieved sales in some 7,100 US supermarkets, making up 20% of the firm’s total nugget sales.
“This product, which is only 50% chicken, was also rated the best tasting frozen chicken nuggets in the US, and just imagine if all meat products did this hybrid blending, it would solve a lot of problems with regard to resources, sustainability and more,” said Shapiro.
“[We believe we can] do this in Asia too, which is a key market where we are actively exploring options, particularly in China where we are actively looking for large food and/or meat firms to set up partnerships [a la the Perdue Foods collaboration], as well as in Singapore where the receptivity to alternative proteins is high.
“The rising population and expanding middle class in Asia means more [demand for] protein and meat, and what we want to do is reduce the meat consumption of meat eaters in Asia, yet not deprive them.
“One of the biggest mistakes the US made was to let itself become the world’s biggest meat consumer as [it grew more developed, and hybrid products can] help ensure a repeat of this does not happen in Asia.”
Closer to price parity
In addition to health benefits, hybrid products also hold an advantage in terms of being closer to reach price parity as part of the product will be made of conventional meat.
“We’ve managed to reach lower costs for more expensive conventional meats such as hybrid beef and crab products, and we’re roughly at the same price point as pork,” said Shapiro.
“As for chicken, in terms of costs we’re not there yet but the Perdue Foods Chicken Plus nuggets are retailing at roughly the same price as conventional nuggets, even slightly lower priced [if compared with the organic range].”
The firm has also set up its own fermentation plant to produce a mycoprotein ingredient dubbed Rhiza which is ‘cheaper than beef’ in addition to containing more functional benefits such as iron, fibre and a complete amino acid profile.