A plant-based hierarchy is emerging and Mark Schneider is determined to position Nestlé as a frontrunner, writes Eamonn Duff
How does the world’s largest food company beef up its credentials in the booming plant-based industry? With a vegan bacon cheeseburger, that’s how.
Over the past two years, Nestlé has been carving out some major space for itself in the rapidly expanding meat-free market. Last month, it unveiled its latest innovations: vegan cheese and vegan bacon – both created to complement its existing ‘Awesome Burger’, a plant-based patty that looks and tastes just like the real McCoy. According to Nestlé, it’s broken new ground by becoming the first company to offer the three main ingredients for a vegan bacon cheeseburger. The invention will be offered to restaurant and foodservice operators from next year and rumours are rife that McDonalds will be one of the first to stock it. The latest meat-free announcement also ties nicely into the company’s ambitious goal of reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“More and more consumers are looking for delicious, nutritious and sustainable plant-based options when they dine out,” said Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider, adding: “We have now raised the bar by developing a ‘PB triple play’ of ingredients for an all-time classic.”
Nestlé’s research and development teams developed the vegan alternatives to cheese and bacon, using a combination of natural ingredients such as plant-based proteins, fibers and oils.
It claims the cheddar cheese alternative has the texture, meltability and “rich taste of a dairy cheese” whilst the bacon alternative has a “crispy and chewy” texture.
It also enlisted the help of food scientists and top chefs to bring the “no-compromise” vegan burger to life and help tailor the products for use in professional kitchens.Schneider said: “We’re continuing to make good on our promise to offer consumers food that is right for them and right for the planet.”
Nestlé has long been plagued by animal cruelty and human rights claims but in recent years, the single largest food producer on the planet has taken tremendous strides to rid its colossal, global supply chain of suspect suppliers. Schneider has also signalled his intention for the company to become the global frontrunner in sustainable food trends.
While data released by finder.com at the beginning of the year showed that only 1.3 percent of UK residents are vegan, the number is expected to rise to approximately 5.5 percent by the end of 2019. This was the year when Greggs launched its vegan sausage roll nationally – which helped drive a 58 percent first half profit rise. Elsewhere, KFC surprised consumers with its vegan ‘Imposter’ burger. Subway is the latest fast-food chain to create a plant-based version of an old favourite, unveiling a meatless meatball marina sub last month. “The whole notion of giving consumers a choice when it comes to plant-based alternatives is going to be a key theme going forward,” said Schneider in an interview with MarketWatch. “We’re talking about a pretty significant mega-trend.”
After a career largely spent in the pharmaceutical industry, the German born Schneider was appointed CEO of Nestlé in 2017. Significantly, he became the first outsider to take the helm since 1922.
Since his arrival, Nestlé has been buying into the plant-based revolution – big time. In 2017, it bought Sweet Earth, a highly respected California-based food producer with more than 60 established, plant-based products in its portfolio. Nestlé described the acquisition as offering “immediate entry into the plant-based foods segment”, which is “expected to become a $5 billion market by 2020.”
In February 2018, it made a further move to expand its profile in healthy foods, buying a majority stake in Terrafertil, a plant-based organic food company founded in Ecuador and best known in the UK for its flagship brand Nature’s Heart. There have been further purchases in the natural space too: it nabbed Canadian vitamin producer Atribum Innovations for $2.3 billion. And late last year it also acquired two popular natural coffee companies: Blue Bottle and Chameleon Cold Brew.
It’s no coincidence that, around the same time, Nestlé offloaded its entire US confectionery business to Ferrero. The $2.8 billion deal included more than 20 household brands and elevated Ferrero as the third largest chocolate manufacturer in the US. Schneider, meanwhile, appears to have his eyes trained on a much bigger prize. “This move allows Nestlé to invest and innovate across a range of categories where we see strong future growth,” he said.