Nestlé SA is hoping to carve out a piece of the plant-based pie — er, burger.
Today Bloomberg reported that the Swiss food company will launch a meat-free patty modestly called the “Incredible Burger” (not to be confused with the Impossible Burger) under its Garden Gourmet brand. The burger will be made of soy and wheat protein, and will join Garden Gourmet‘s meat-free lineup, which already includes smoked sausages, nuggets, cheeseburgers, and schnitzel. It’s expected to head to market in spring of 2019.
This announcement isn’t especially surprising. Nestlé is one of several Big Food companies investing more heavily in plant-based foods, taking advantage of growing consumer demand for vegetarian and vegan products. It isn’t even the first meat-free play by Nestlé: last year the corporation acquired meat-free company Sweet Earth and recently bought a majority stake of plant-based food company Terrafertil.
However, the Incredible Burger is the first notable Big Food effort to compete directly with meat-free products meant to look, cook, and bleed like the real thing. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — we’re looking at you. These startups have a lot of name recognition and are basically synonymous with the new wave of plant-based “meat.” Comparatively, Nestlé is late to the game.
But is it too late? It depends where Nestlé focuses their efforts. Impossible and Beyond may have a hold on the U.S. market, but they haven’t expanded much outside of the U.S. (yet). Nestlé would be smart to concentrate on the European market, where, despite several competitors like Moving Mountains and Naturli’ Foods, there’s still plenty of room for it to carve out its own space in the plant-based meat market. Given Nestlé’s size, it already has scale, manufacturing, and sales channels it can leverage to expand quickly. However, Beyond is set to go public in 2019, so it could theoretically raise enough money to present a challenge to Big Food players like Nestlé — or at least scare them a bit.
In the end, the plant-based meat market isn’t a zero-sum game. Demand for meaty meatless foods is widely predicted to grow over the next year, and Europe especially has a huge appetite for plant-based protein. It may be late to the game, but Nestlé’s new burger will still likely see “incredible” success.