On its earnings call this week, Tyson Foods gave some updates on its Raised & Rooted alternative protein brand which it announced in June. According to the call, the brand’s plant-based “chicken” nuggets, made with plants and egg whites, are now available in 7,000 stores. Tyson also stated it would begin shipping its blended burgers — made with a mixture of beef and plant protein — later this month.
Since there are already plenty of faux chicken nuggets in the frozen grocery aisle, it’s the blended burger bit that’s more intriguing to us at The Spoon. Especially since Whole Foods just named “blended, less beefy burgers” one of its top 10 food trends of 2020.
In theory, blended burgers seem like a good idea. Replacing part of the beef with plant protein is an easy way to cut down on animal products without being too radically “anti-meat” or alienating hardcore carnivores. And in settings like cafeterias, where people might not even know that they’re eating meat cut with plants, that approach might work out.
Blended meat is still pretty new so it’s too soon to say for sure how these blended offerings will resonate (or not resonate) with consumers. But I’m not optimistic. My guess is that in trying to appeal to so many people, companies making blended burgers might actually end up appealing to very few. Carnivores will continue to choose meat, health nuts will go with lower-fat turkey, and those with strong environmental or ethical motivations will likely opt for plant-based options.
All of which is to say, despite the stamp of approval from folks like Whole Foods, I’m not sure that blended meat is actually a juicy enough offering to draw in consumers. When we already have plant-based offerings like Impossible and Beyond that taste pretty darn close to the real thing, what’s the point of getting something that’s not quite meat but not quite plants? It seems like flexitarians would be more keen to choose one path or the other.
There is one edge that Raised & Rooted’s burgers have over Beyond and Impossible though, and that’s health. Tyson’s blended patties contain 40 percent fewer calories and 60 percent less saturated fat than typical beef burgers. Plant-based options from Beyond and Impossible, however, are comparable to beef in terms of calorie content and fat — something they’ve attracted a lot of flack about lately. Then again, if consumers want a meaty burger option with fewer calories than beef or plant-based beef, they could always opt for turkey or bison burgers.
Tyson isn’t the only Big Meat company betting on blended meat. Rival Hormel sells Blend Burgers, in both turkey and beef, under its Applegate brand. Chicken behemoth Perdue announced a line of blended chicken products — half white meat chicken, half plant protein — shortly before Tyson unveiled Raised & Rooted. Our Head Editor Chris Albrecht tried the nuggets (as did his eight-year-old) and liked them just fine, but said there wasn’t enough of a value add to entice him to purchase them again. Instead, he’d rather just feed his kid nicer chicken and vegetables, separately.
I think that ambivalence will hold true for the blended meat space overall. Blended burgers are just fine — but when so many companies are vying to be your protein pick in the grocery aisle, fine just isn’t good enough.