Tyson Bets on Omnivores With New Alternative Protein Business

(Bloomberg) -- Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, is getting into the vegetarian protein business.

The company plans to accelerate and develop its own alternative-protein business line, and every kind of protein is on the table from legumes and peas to mushrooms and insects, according to Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s chief sustainability officer. Formerly with McKinsey & Co., he was also named head of Tyson’s "alternative protein" business earlier this week.

"We’re going to be making significant investments in the space," Whitmore said in an interview with Bloomberg. "The companies and ecosystem that are in place to provide protein to the world can do the same thing for alternative protein -- the mechanics of the supply chain all the way from the farm to your plate don’t necessarily change."

Food giants have been investing increasingly in vegetarian and vegan brands this year, as plant-based food sales grew 20 percent to $3.3 billion in 2018, according to data from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association.

Through its ventures unit, Tyson has already made deals with vegetarian burger-maker Beyond Meat and mushroom protein company MycoProtein. But Whitmore said it’s now ready to develop its own products and expects it to be a "material part of the business" going forward.

Farming Evolution

The company hasn’t decided on brand names, whether to target food-service or retail, or what kind of protein it will use. But it says the move is part of a necessity for agriculture to evolve. Agriculture -- as one of the world’s biggest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions -- faces significant supply threats in a warming world.

Whitmore said the company, which largely relies on independent farmers, wants to help its supply chain diversify and expects consumers in the future will be open to all kinds of protein -- even from a large meat company.

"Alternative protein is going to be a part of the larger protein growth landscape globally," he said. "You’re going to see chicken, pork, turkey or beef and alternative proteins, rather than an either-or situation."

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