Lightlife takes aim at Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods over their ‘food tech’ tactics
As the summer grilling season draws to a close, the battle for plant-based burger market share is just heating up.
Lightlife Foods is calling out competitors Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods over how they make their meatless patties in its biggest push yet to promote its own reformulated products against others in the growing and increasingly crowded plant-based field.
“Enough. Enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMOs, unnecessary additives and fillers, and fake blood,” Lightlife Foods President Dan Curtin writes in an open letter to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
The letter is set to appear Tuesday in newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. It is part of a broader marketing push that is the biggest move yet by Lightlife to differentiate itself in the category where being meat-free is no longer enough of a designation.
“This is not a fad, this is a trend,” says Curtin, whose ties to the industry date back to the late 1990s, when he was a partner in Boca Burger.
Curtin suggests Lightlife’s shot at two well-known rivals is more of a push than a shove. He spins it as a way to raise the expectations for all in the industry. “We are not attacking them, we are challenging them,” says Curtin.
Lightlife, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are among the competitors vying for the attention of vegetarians, vegans, and the larger group of "flexitarian" diners who eat meat but are open to alternatives. Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms, for example, is promoting its recently introduced Incogmeato brand using lines such as “afraid you might like it?”
The plant-based meat category grew 18.4 percent to $939 million in 2019, according to data from the Plant Based Foods Association, and has been growing at even faster rates during the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. retail sales of frozen and refrigerated meat substitutes soared 51.9 percent to $932.9 million in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 9, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. MorningStar Farms has lost some ground yet maintained a commanding 36.7 percent dollar share in the latest 52 weeks, according to IRI data. Beyond Meat held a 19.3 percent dollar share in that period, while Lightlife's share was 7.2 percent.
Beyond Meat this month reported that its U.S. retail revenue soared nearly 195 percent in the second quarter, helping its overall U.S. revenue more than double, despite the decline in the restaurant industry. In response to Lightlife's open letter Beyond Meat stated: “If they were clear on our ingredients, they would see that our food is made with simple, plant-based ingredients. With no GMOs. No synthetic additives. Our products are designed to have the same taste and texture as animal-based meat, giving more consumers more options that are better for them and the planet.”
Impossible Foods issued a lengthy response to Lightlife's letter on Medium, calling it "a disingenuous, desperate disinformation campaign" that the company finds "highly misleading," while also pointing out that Lightlife is owned by a company that also makes meat products.
Lightlife brought out its plant-based burger in 2019 and replaced it with a new version this summer with fewer ingredients. It came up with the updated take after gathering consumer feedback in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, an effort that involved talking to thousands of people, says Curtin.
“Consumers were yearning to have fewer ingredients in their products,” says Curtin.
The updated Lightlife product has 11 ingredients, down from 17 or 18, which is how many ingredients are listed in Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef, while Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger lists 20 ingredients. Lightlife is also touting that its product comes from a kitchen, not a lab. Along with the open letter, its marketing plan includes social and digital ads focused on its "clean break" from the competition.
For now, Lightlife is known for other items. It has sold more than 100 million servings of its various products in the last 12 months, says Curtin. Its top sellers are hot dogs and sausages, along with tempeh. The burger patties, meanwhile, “are gaining significant momentum,” says Curtin.
Lightlife is owned by Greenleaf Foods SPC, which is a unit of Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Lightlife works with Jackman Reinvents on strategy and creative, Edible on public relations and influencer engagement, 160/90 on talent partnerships and activations, and Spark Foundry on media buying.
Hear about what's trending in the plant-based industry by attending Ad Age Next: Food & Beverage, a virtual event on Sept 22. Register here.