Nestlé SA sees the future in a lean burger made from soybeans and wheat protein. Soon we can accompany him with purple nut milk or spirulina latte.
The Swiss company is preparing for its largest foray into the growing vegan market to date: Incredible Burger, which will be presented under the Garden Gourmet brand next spring. While consumers leave meat to leafy greens, Nestlé wants to turn this trend into plant-based products into a multi-billion dollar business.
This is a big change for the world's largest food company, whose products include sausages and Herta ham. While Nestlé and its competitors have been supervising vegan products for years, the expansion has become more fundamental in the context of the stagnation of sales of traditional supermarket brands, many of which contain dairy products and meat, products that Vegans do not consume.
Nestlé is competing with competitors such as Unilever and newbies like Beyond Meat, funded by Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio, to find alternatives that reveal a new generation of consumers who refuse animal protein and high cholesterol. An English-Dutch company bought The Vegetarian Butcher, a vegetable-based food producer, in December, while an American startup sells a beetroot-containing hamburger to imitate beef myoglobin.
According to Laurent Freixe, head of the Americas region, the Swiss-based vegetable business can reach sales of over 1 billion francs (1 billion US dollars) in a decade. This represents an increase of hundreds of millions of francs today, while the bulk of Nestlé's sales of 90 billion francs still account for coffee, bottled water and other long-standing companies. The company claims that about half of its protein, including pet food, comes from plants, not from animal sources.
Nestlé’s chief technologist, Stefan Palzer, identified consumers who choose a plant-based diet as one of several fast-growing “food tribes,” in addition to those who are gluten-free or lactose-free. The popularity of veganism among the millennial generation makes it especially attractive to food giants.
“While we more deeply investigated consumption trends, we saw that they had changed a little over the past couple of years, depending on how consumers define healthy eating,” he said in an interview.
Over the past two years, major food companies have strengthened their vegan presence through acquisitions. Nestlé bought Californian company Sweet Earth and snack food maker Terrafertil, while Danone evaluates the possibility of adding dairy-free products to some of its leading brands, such as Activia and Actimel, after acquiring WhiteWave for $ 10 billion.
At the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, scientists are exploring the potential of other vegan proteins. While the bulk of non-dairy milk available to consumers is currently based on soybeans, for example, the company is experimenting with a liquid made from walnuts and blueberries that have a violet hue. There is also a spirulina algae latte.
“Vegetarianism has never been so popular, and I’m sure of it,” said Palzer.