International food giant Nestlé is getting serious about its push into the plant-based protein race.
Through its brand Sweet Earth, Nestlé will be launching the Awesome Burger and Awesome Grounds, plant-based ground meat, across retailers in the U.S. starting this week and ramp up distribution in the coming weeks.
Nestlé acquired Sweet Earth in 2017, and while the Moss Landing, California–based company isn’t new to the plant-based foods trend, the Awesome Burger is its first attempt to create something that mimics a beef burger.
The Awesome Burger is made with yellow pea protein, which the company says is extremely protein dense. (Rival Beyond Meat (BYND) burgers are also made of pea protein isolate.) Though the Awesome Burger is GMO free, soy free and vegan, it is not gluten free. It will be available in the fresh meat aisles at grocery stores like Ralphs, Fred Meyer and Safeway. Sweet Earth co-founder Kelly Swette told Yahoo Finance that it is working to get the Awesome Burger in Amazon-owned Whole Foods stores soon.
Nestlé has been selling a soy and wheat based veggie burger in Europe since April through its Garden Gourmet brand, but the company has long been eyeing its entry into the U.S. market. Nestlé’s Sweet brand aims to deliver the taste and texture of beef yet offer a higher nutritional value without harming the environment or animals.
Nestlé is the largest food company in the world, so Sweet Earth is able to tap into Nestlé’s enormous production capability to meet the intense alternative-protein demand as of late. “One of the things that is super beneficial to our company is we have 140 years of experience behind us with Nestlé,” Sweet Earth co-founder Brian Swette said on YFi AM. “So they have the supply chain, the procurement, the manufacturing expertise that helps us ensure that we can get a great product in a consistent way to all of our customers.”
Despite being owned by a large food company, Kelly Swette explained that Sweet Earth is able to operate independently and even has its own culinary innovation team. She, along with three other people, conceive and produce the Sweet Earth’s products.
As the plant-based meat craze catches fire mainstream, many people are questioning its health benefits and nutritional value. Some argue that fake meat burgers are too processed to be considered healthy. “Better is better,” Kelly Swette told Yahoo Finance. “If you take a look at some of the nutritional aspects, it’s got 26 grams of protein. A hamburger has 19 [grams of protein]. It’s got 6 grams of fiber. Meat [has zero].” Brian Swette added that only about 5% of the population gets sufficient amounts of fiber.
The Swettes teased that the company would also be launching a line of vegan plant-based deli meats in the near future as well.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been aggressively partnering with food services companies and restaurants to expand their reach. Beyond Meat has partnerships with Dunkin’ Brands (DNKN), Del Taco (TACO), Tim Hortons (QSR), and Carl’s Jr, among a slew of others. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods and Burger King recently launched the Impossible Whopper nationwide.
Brian Swette explained that Nestlé has deep relationships within the restaurant industry and an extensive distribution network. He said that Sweet Earth’s intent is to be omnichannel.
Sweet Earth was founded by Brian and Kelly Swette in 2011. Both Brian and Kelly have backgrounds in consumer goods, specifically in food and beverage. Brian served as the PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer, sat on the board of Burger King and was director at Jamba Juice. Meanwhile, Kelly was the director of marketing and director of national sales at PepsiCo.
Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.
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