Eyeing alternatives – meat companies with stakes in meat-free | Food Industry Analysis

Ozo brand developed by Brazilian meat behemoth JBS

Ozo brand developed by Brazilian meat behemoth JBS

The rise of plant-based products as an alternative to meat and the arrival of lab-created – or ‘clean’ – products as a potentially sustainable way of feeding the world are trends very much on the radar of the world’s largest meat companies. Here we look at what those businesses are doing to make sure they are not missing out on alternative protein solutions.

Tyson Foods 

The US meat giant, one of the largest companies in the sector, has perhaps done more than any of its rivals to position itself in alternatives to its core product.

Tyson Foods has invested in US plant burger firm Beyond Meat and two lab-based meat firms – Memphis Meats from the US and Israel-based lab Future Meat Technologies.

In May 2018, it co-led a US$2.2m seed investment round in the Israeli firm through its Tyson Ventures arm.

It described the target of its investment as a “ground-breaking start-up developing affordable, non-GMO technology for cultured meat production”. Future Meat Technologies is a Jerusalem-based biotechnology company advancing a distributive manufacturing platform for cost-efficient, non-GMO production of meat directly from animal cells, without the need to raise or harvest animals.

The investment built on its taking a minority stake in US-based Memphis Meats in January, again through its Tyson Ventures arm. Memphis Meats, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, said it planned to use the new funds to accelerate product development.

In April 2019, it emerged Tyson had exited its investment in US firm Beyond Meat, ahead of the Beyond Burger maker’s IPO. 

In June that year, Tyson launched a brand – Raised & Rooted – under which plant-based products and so-called ‘blended’ food (containing meat and plant ingredients) are sold.


In the spring of 2019, the Brazil-based meat titan, the world’s largest beef processor, unveiled a plant-based version of a burger.

JBS launched the vegan product under one of its flagship Brazilian brands, Seara. The company said the Incrível Burger Seara Gourmet burger contained soy, beets, wheat, garlic and onion.

In March 2020, JBS announced it would launch plant-based protein brand Ozo in the US via a new subsidiary, Planterra Foods. Burgers were among the products to be rolled out that April.


Another Brazil-based meat major, Marfrig, announced in August 2019 plans to enter the plant-based category in an exclusive tie-up with Archer Daniels Midland.

ADM will produce the base raw materials while Marfrig will manufacture and sell the end products through foodservice and retail channels.

Marfrig said its debut plant-based burgers will likely roll out in Brazil by the end of the year with plans in place for export, too. Foodservice customers will be the first to receive delivery of the “vegetable hamburgers” followed by the retail sector under a new brand to be launched by the international meat processor.


US agri-food giant Cargill has also backed ‘clean’ meat company Memphis Meats.

In August 2017, Cargill joined a wide group of investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Virgin founder Richard Branson in a Series A fundraising round.

“Our goal is to provide a complete basket of goods to our customers. We will do this by growing our traditional protein business, entering into new proteins and investing in innovative alternatives,” Brian Sikes, group leader of Cargill’s protein business, said at the time.

Cargill has continued to invest in conventional meat products but, alongside building that side of its business, has backed others offering alternatives. In May 2019, it was announced Cargill had become an investor in Aleph Farms, an Israel-based slaughter-free meat firm that creates meat in a laboratory from cells.

In February 2020, Cargill announced it would launch its own meat-free patties and ground products aimed at the private-label and foodservice channels.

Smithfield Foods

In August 2019, the US meat major, owned by China’s WH Group, launched its own meat-free range.

Smithfield rolled out meat alternatives in the form of breakfast patties, ‘meatballs’, burgers and starters, all marketed under the Pure Farmland brand.

The line-up from Smithfield covered eight soy-based products made with natural ingredients and are dairy and gluten free. Pure Farmland products were set to hit the fresh, refrigerated sections of grocery retailers in the US in mid-September. 

Maple Leaf Foods

Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods has also been busy in the plant-based meat alternative area.

In February last year it moved to acquire US plant-based protein manufacturer Lightlife Foods from private-equity firm Brynwood Partners for US$140m.

Announcing the deal, Maple Leaf claimed the acquisition establishes it as a “leader” in the US plant-based protein category through the Lightlife brand, which offers refrigerated products such as plant-based hot dogs, breakfast foods and burgers.

And it built on this in December when it entered an agreement to buy US-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. for US$120m.

Seattle-based Field Roast supplies grain-based meat and vegan cheese products to the North American market. Its range includes sausages, frankfurters, burgers and deli slices.

In 2018, Maple Leaf created Greenleaf Foods, a new division to head the acquired Lightlife and Field Roast Grain Meat assets. In 2020, through Greenleaf, Maple Leaf invested in Gathered Foods, the US company behind the plant-based seafood brand Good Catch.

OSI Group

The US-based meat supplier – with more than 60 facilities across 17 countries – announced in July 2019 a deal to produce the Impossible Burger, the flagship product of another Californian plant-based upstart, Impossible Foods.

The contract added capacity to Impossible’s own plant in Oakland, California. It came as Impossible claimed it had seen “unprecedented demand” for the burger, which made its debut in selected restaurants in 2016.


The world’s largest food maker, which includes European meat brand Herta in its portfolio, owns the European vegetarian brand Garden Gourmet.

In the spring of 2018, the company launched the brand in the UK but, by April 2019, had confirmed the product was no longer on sale in that market.

The same month, Nestlé launched the Incredible Burger under the Garden Gourmet brand in select European markets. Early listings included with McDonald’s in Germany.

In September 2017, the company entered the US market for plant-based food with the acquisition of Sweet Earth.

The deal, struck for an undisclosed sum, saw the world’s largest food maker take over the California business which makes frozen meals, burritos and chilled plant-based burgers and proteins that are sold in more than 10,000 stores, including Whole Foods and Walmart.

Paul Grimwood, the then CEO and chairman of Nestle’s US arm, said at the time the deal was announced the country was seeing a consumer shift toward plant-based proteins, with as many as 50% of consumers now seeking such foods in their diets and 40% being open to reducing their traditional meat consumption. 

“One of Nestle’s strategic priorities is to build out our portfolio of vegetarian and flexitarian choices in line with modern health trends,” Grimwood said.

Bell Food Group

European packaged meats supplier Bell Food Group is another to have invested in lab-grown meat.

In July 2018 the convenience food supplier invested EUR2m (US$2.4m) in Mosa Meat, a cultured-beef start-up based in the Netherlands.

“The objective of the upcoming development phase is to successfully bring cultured beef to market by 2021,” Bell said. “The Bell Food Group supports the development and research work [at Mosa Meat] with its expertise and know-how as one of the leading producers of meat and charcuterie products in Europe.”

Mosa Meat also attracted investment from M Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of science and technology company Merck.

Hilton Food Group

In October 2018, the UK-based meat processor Hilton Food Group struck a deal to buy 50% of Dalco Food, a supplier of vegetarian products in the Netherlands.

The transaction, agreed for an undisclosed sum, gives Hilton an option to buy the rest of Dalco Food in 2024.

According to the Dalco Food website, the company started life as a butcher’s shop in the centre of Oss, a city in the east of the Netherlands, in 1975.

Dalco Food’s product line includes meat substitutes such as vegetarian burgers. It also includes products like chicken nuggets and meatballs.

The business’ customer base takes in retailers on a private-label basis, the foodservice channel and food manufacturers.

Rastelli Foods Group

In the autumn of 2019, US-based meat and seafood supplier Rastelli Foods Group was signed up by Moving Mountains as the UK-based meat-free business’ importer and “key distributor” in the country.

At the end of the year, Rastelli Foods Group also agreed to act as US distributor for UK meat-free start-up Daring Foods.

In February 2020, Daring Foods is also planning to launch a direct-to-consumer service in the US in February supported by Rastelli Foods. 

Izico Food Group

In November 2017, Dutch frozen snack company Izico Food Group, which includes chicken skewers, mini burgers and meat croquettes in its range, added to its business in the UK with the acquisition of vegetarian foods supplier Goodlife Foods.

Goodlife’s range includes vegetarian sausages and burgers supplied to the retail and foodservice channels.

Izico, which manufactures branded and private-label frozen food products, also has its own range of vegetarian and vegan products. 

It said the “addition of Goodlife confirms the organisation’s strategy to develop their UK business going forward and to cement their position as a leading supplier in their chosen categories”. 


The company, one of Europe’s largest poultry processors, has made – or been involved in – a number of investments in businesses offering alternatives to meat.

In January 2018, PHW-Gruppe formed a strategic partnership with Israeli ‘clean meat’ business SuperMeat.

It provided financing that will enable the Tel Aviv-based, bio-tech start-up to bring its “clean-chicken products” to market.

SuperMeat produces meat by growing cells extracted from chickens. The cells are then grown in conditions that allow them to thrive, forming poultry cuts. 

SuperMeat said of its business: “This process puts an end to the industrial need to mass produce animals for slaughter, while eliminating exposure to animal waste and food-borne illnesses; the potential benefits for public health and animal welfare are therefore considerable.”

In September 2019, PHW-Gruppe was part of a consortium investing in Israel-based 3D printer alternative meat producing firm Redefine Meat.

In February 2020, Foods United, a US-based business set up to invest in the plant-based market, bought a majority stake in German vegan business LikeMeat. PHW-Gruppe owns a minority stake in Foods United.


Norway’s Nortura is among those meat companies to have launched their own ranges of meat-free products. In 2017, Nortura launched a line of vegetarian alternatives to meat called MEATish. 

The line included MEATish bowls, nuggets, bites and burgers. It is made from GMO-free soy beans and Norwegian eggs. The company said the products have “equivalent or higher” protein and less saturated fat than meat options. 

Nortura said at the time it is one of “several” vegetable-based projects it is working on.


In 2015, German meat processor Wiesenhof continued its push into meat-free with the launch of two vegan products.

The company, which already sold vegetarian lines under its Paul’s Veggie brand, introduced a vegan sausage and a vegan mortadella – an Italian sausage. The products are made with pea and soy protein.

Wiesenhof pointed to data from the Vegetarierbund, Germany’s vegetarian association, that it said showed 10% of German consumers are vegetarians.

Finnebrogue Artisan

In early 2019, the sausage, bacon and ham supplier, based in Northern Ireland, opened a new facility to make vegetarian and vegan products.

Announcing the investment, managing director Brian McMonagle said: “We are determined not to stand still and are always looking to make food the best it can possibly be, without being bound by the way it’s always been done.

“More and more people are switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet – and even meat eaters are increasingly seeking a day or two off a week.”

In May 2020 it launched a new plant-based range, consisting of Naked ‘made without the moo’ burgers, meatballs and mince products and Naked ‘made without the oink’ sausages.

The Black Farmer

In April 2018, The Black Farmer, a UK food business best known for sausages and other meat products, launched The Hatchery, a collaborative incubator for food entrepreneurs.

The first cohort is made up of three businesses, one of which is London-based Planet Jason which makes vegan burgers and sausages. meatless mince and chicken-type products.

Heck Food

The UK sausage maker branched out into meat-free products in the autumn of 2018, launching a range of plant-based sausages, with product names including The Beet Goes On and Bollywood.

ABP Food Group

Ireland-based meat processor ABP Food Group announced it was moving into the plant-based arena in February 2019.

The County Louth business launched its first fresh plant-based, meat-free brand for distribution in the UK.  

Its brand is called Equals and is being sold through major UK retailers including Asda.

The company said the move was part of its “multi-million pound” investment in branded and ready-to-cook meat and meat-free products which complement its core processing business.

Equals’ launch product was a pack of two meat-free quarterpounder burgers, made from a mix of seasoned pea and soy proteins.

Danish Crown

In August 2019, Denmark-based co-op Danish Crown announced it is to launch plant-based products.

The company said it will be ready to introduce plant-based alternatives to beef burgers before the end of the year.

Finn Klostermann, CEO of Danish Crown Beef, said: “Danish Crown Beef already have several hybrid products composed of minced beef and root vegetables in the chilled cabinets, they will soon be joined by products made entirely of plants. Before the end of the year a plant-based burger will be a part of our product range.”

Klostermann said the co-op is responding to consumer demand.


The UK-based meat processor owned by Danish Crown up until October 2019 moved into the vegan market that same month.

Tulip launched a brand, The Green Butcher, and started selling products through UK grocer The Co-op.

US poultry supplier Pilgrim’s Pride acquired Tulip for US$290m. Pilgrim’s Pride is majority-owned by JBS.

Hormel Foods

US-based Hormel Foods launched a meat alternative brand in the shape of Happy Little Plants in September 2019.

The Austin, Minnesota-based branded food company – behind products such as Skippy, Spam and Applegate – announced the launch at the Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference in Boston.

It said the initiative, mooted back in June, is the first project under its Cultivated Foods umbrella.

It had previously launched blended meat and vegetable products.

Kerry Group

Ireland’s Kerry Group expanded into the alternative protein market in September 2019 with the launch of a meat-free version of its Richmond sausages – and a new range under the Naked Glory brand.

Vion Food Group

Netherlands-based meat business Vion Food Group announced in October 2019 it is to establish an arm manufacturing plant-based protein products.

ME-AT will provide products on a private label basis to retailers, most likely in its home market and in Germany.

There are no plans to bring out branded products using the ME-AT label.

Vion has not disclosed which proteins will be used in its five planned products.

Kepak Group

Ireland’s Kepak is another company to seek to tap into the interest in vegetarian brands.

In January 2020, Kepak announced it was rolling out a vegetarian product under its ready-to-cook burger brand Rustlers.

The Rustlers Moroccan Vegetarian Burger – which had a recommended retail price of GBP2 (US$2.60) – is made with chickpeas, carrot and coriander. Every Rustlers comes with a sachet of sauce and the veggie product is sold with mango chutney and a yoghurt-and-mint sauce.

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