Plant-Based Prepared Meals are Ripe with Opportunity

Plant-Based Prepared Meals are Ripe with Opportunity

Young Americans are likely to see themselves as busy, often working full-time jobs along with other part-time jobs or “side hustles”. The Millennial generation (the largest group of plant-based meat consumers according to Packaged Facts’ October 2020 report Meat, Poultry, & Seafood Alternatives: Plant-Based & Cultured Cell-Based Types) often views being busy as a badge of honor, which contradicts the desires of many young people to enjoy fresh, healthy food.

Convenience options including fresh or frozen microwavable heat-and-eat meals, prepared meals that only need to be put in the oven or a skillet to cook, and ready-to-eat foods offer a solution to this potential dilemma, as they are convenient and time-saving, eliminating or reducing the need to cook.

A top reason that consumers cite for buying any type of prepared meals is time savings. Packaged Facts suggests marketers of plant-based meat products should focus on convenience when marketing to consumers, as regular consumers of plant-based meat and people who have not really eaten these products are more likely to look for prepared meal options when strapped for time. Incorporating plant-based meat into prepared foods is the ultimate convenience since consumers can have a complete meal at home or at a workplace with little effort.

Some small companies that make plant-based meat are focusing on prepared meals in addition to plant-based meat analogues that have to be cooked by the end user and added to other components to make a meal (e.g., meatless grounds). For example, startup Alpha Foods (which secured $28 million in funding in February 2020) sells more than 20 varieties of prepared foods incorporating its plant-based chicken, sausage, and beef, including burritos, handheld pot pies, tamales, and pizza.

Big food companies and their brands are also moving into the prepared meal space. For instance, the Gardein brand of plant-based meat products (owned by Conagra Brands) offers a number of frozen prepared foods incorporating plant-based meat to appeal to busy consumers, such as skillet meals that are frozen and ready to be cooked on the stove, sliders that come with a bun and are ready to be microwaved, and microwavable fajita bowls. 

Other brands owned by Conagra that do not primarily operate in the plant-based space are also releasing prepared foods incorporating plant-based meat, revealing that plant-based meat is quickly becoming mainstream in prepared foods. In July 2020, Conagra announced that it would be adding Gardein plant-based meat to new meals sold under the Birds Eye, Healthy Choice, and Marie Callender’s brands.

At that time, new products were also announced for the Gardein brand, including three flavors of plant-based jerky (original, teriyaki, and hot and spicy) and five new flavors of soup with plant-based meat: Chick’n Noodl’, Be’f & Vegetable, Saus’ge Gumbo, Chick’n & Rice, and Minestrone & Saus’ge.

Restaurant meals incorporating plant-based meat other than the standard plant-based burger available at many restaurants as a vegan or vegetarian option are also expected to increasingly come to market. For instance, Donatos Pizza, a Columbus, Ohio-based pizza chain, launched three new pizza varieties incorporating plant-based sausage with cauliflower crust in February 2020. According to a spokesperson for Donatos, “This is not a limited time offer. This product is here to stay, and sales continue to increase on it every day as more and more people hear about it or try it and tell others.” Four pizzas with plant-based sausage are now available as a “conscious choice” for order on Donatos’ website.