Nestlé unveils plant-based shrimp and eggs as vegan shift accelerates

Nestlé has unveiled plant-based versions of shrimp and eggs as the world’s largest food company tops SFr1.2bn ($1.3bn) a year in sales of vegetarian and vegan products thanks to changing diets and environmental concerns.

The company’s “vrimp”, made from seaweed, peas and the roots of konjac, or elephant yam, and liquid egg alternative, called “vEGGie”, made with soy protein, are the latest products in a range that already includes versions of chicken, tuna, burgers and milk.

Along with rivals such as Unilever, the group is racing to build a portfolio in plant-based proteins, betting that consumers will partly switch away from meat and dairy because of their different nutrient profiles and higher carbon dioxide emissions.

Mark Schneider, Nestlé chief executive, said: “Over time there will be an opportunity to essentially offer a plant-based version of every animal protein around . . . I feel that we are on to something that is a major trend.”

The company currently sells about SFr200m a year of plant-based meat alternatives, Schneider said, while sales of vegan and vegetarian products including plant-based dairy and meat-free dishes such as pizzas have reached SFr1bn annually.

Nestlé’s sales of vegan and vegetarian products have reached SFr1bn annually

It is vying with other multinationals and specialist start-ups for a slice of the alternative “centre of plate” market, selling its plant proteins through outlets as diverse as Ukrainian petrol stations and Greek fast food restaurants along with retail, where its brands include Garden Gourmet and Sweet Earth.

Optimism about the growth of vegan food is prompting large companies to launch more products and move beyond meat and dairy to other protein categories.

“At the moment it’s a land grab,” said Mark Lynch at Oghma Partners, a corporate finance advisory firm focused on consumer products.

While some large food companies want to buy start-ups, he said that others, like Nestlé, were developing products in-house because of the high price of acquisitions. “Many of them are asking themselves: is it worth paying three to four times sales when we can do it ourselves?” he said.

The launch of the egg substitute — which can be scrambled or used in baking — and faux-shrimp in a “small number” of European markets follows the rollout of Nestle’s “Vuna” fake tuna last year and Wunda pea-based milk in May. It has also launched a vegan chocolate Kit Kat.

Schneider said such products offer a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared with their meat and dairy equivalents. The company will next week launch a partnership with hospitality group Whitbread, which will bring its plant proteins to Premier Inn hotels and some of its restaurants.

Nestlé expects the global plant-based meat and dairy market to grow from its current SFr26bn to SFr42bn by 2025.

Food multinationals are also dipping their toes into lab-grown meat and dairy. US meat groups Tyson Foods and Cargill were among early investors in lab-grown meat start-ups, while Nestlé is exploring opportunities with Israel’s Future Meat.

Vegan seafood sales in the US grew by 23 per cent in 2020 from the previous year to $12m, according to the Good Food Institute, a non profit advisory and lobby group.

The plant-based egg category continues to grow, though new entrants and product launches mean it is becoming crowded. Earlier this year Danone acquired Earth Island, which owns VeganEgg under the Follow Your Heart brand.

Eat Just, a pioneer in mung-bean based egg, raised $200m in a March funding round led by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, while Israeli start-up Zero Egg and India’s Evo Foods have tapped investors for early-stage funding.

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