‘Blended Meat’ Products Aim to Reconcile Our Love of Animal Protein With a Need to Eat More Plants

Photo: Misfit Foods
There's absolutely no denying the popularity of alternative meat products. (Looking at you, Impossible and Beyond lovers.) What is surprising is how popular they are with carnivores, who make up the vast majority of the people buying these foods. Yet despite growing interest in plant-based eating for health and environmental reasons, the reality remains that people continue to love and consume meat—in 2018, the USDA estimated that the average American would consume 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry that year. This reality has laid the groundwork for the latest healthy food trend: blended meat products.

A combination of meat and veggies, these products aim to appeal to healthy eaters who still eat meat and love the taste of it, but want to cut back—and up their veggie intake while they're at it. It's a new food category that startups like Misfit Foods (which announced their new line of blended chicken sausage earlier this month) and mega companies like Tyson and Perdue (who both launched blended products this year), are trying to target. But can they truly compete with the alt-meat products taking up more and more space on grocery store shelves?

What sparked the trend

Food companies—especially ones that operate at the massive scale that Perdue and Tyson do—don't create a new food category without doing their research first. Which is why it's not surprising that Eric Christianson, the chief marketing officer at Perdue Foods, says their Chicken Plus line—which combines chicken with cauliflower, chickpeas, and textured wheat protein in the form of nuggets, tenders, and patties—came straight from consumer demand. "[Our research showed us that] seventy-four percent of people are looking to increase their vegetable intake, but at the same time protein is increasingly important," he says. "We wanted to offer a solution to meet both needs."

Christianson says the company launched their new line to cater to people who want to vary their protein sources between meat and plants. "Many of the new plant-based products are geared for vegetarian adults with strict meat-replacement requirements, and not for kids who turn up their nose at some foods or flexitarian adults," he says. "By integrating plants into our core products, Perdue is offering a more flexitarian option while diversifying our portfolio and meeting the growing consumer demand for protein from alternative sources." (Alternative sources like, you know, Impossible, Beyond, and other alt-meat competitors.)

Speaking of plant-based meat, here's the lowdown on the Impossible Burger versus the Beyond Burger:

Dave Betts, the co-founder of Misfit Foods—which launched first with juices made from ugly produce—says his company recognized a similar demand. "We wanted to meet people—and ourselves—where they are at. Sixty-six percent of Americans are actively reducing meat consumption but [less than 10 percent] try a fully vegetarian diet. So, we wanted to create a delicious and simple product that allows this group to eat less meat but not totally give it up." Enter their new line of blended chicken sausages, which promises a 1:1 ratio of animal protein to vegetables.

"We are for less meat, not meat-less," Betts says. "Agriculture and our impact on climate are very nuanced but overall Americans consume too much animal protein and on average it takes more land, energy, and water to produce a pound of animal protein than it does to produce a pound of plant protein." By creating a meat product mixed with vegetables, you're using less meat overall—which generally creates a smaller environmental footprint and often contains less saturated fat and potentially more fiber and nutrients than a 100-percent meat version.

What is going into these products?

Making blended meat products is more nuanced than just combining animal protein with plants; texture, taste, and nutritional profile (primarily protein content) are all taken into account. David Ervin, the vice president and general manager of alternative protein at Tyson Foods says the company worked with both Michelin restaurant trained chefs and research and development experts to come up with a final product that delivered on both nutrition and taste.

For their new Raised and Rooted blended patties (launching in stores this fall), they landed on using beef and pea protein isolate  as the primary ingredients, for a nutritional profile that has 19 grams of protein per serving. "Taste is the number one factor influencing acceptance of alternative proteins," Ervin says. "They have to be crave-worthy, and our blended products have made taste a priority."

Other big brands have gone the plant protein route to make their blended products. In Perdue's Chicken Plus line, primary ingredients include chicken, cauliflower, chickpeas, textured wheat protein, and wheat flower, for a nutrition profile that includes 11 grams of protein per serving.

"Taste is the number one factor influencing acceptance of alternative proteins. They have to be crave-worthy, and our blended products have made taste a priority." —David Ervin, vice president and general manager of alternative protein, Tyson Foods

Some brands opted to use exclusively whole foods sources of vegetables to their blends. Teton Waters Ranch, another player in the blended meat space, combines grass-fed beef with mushrooms (as well as poblano peppers or onions, depending on the product) to make their blended beef patties, which have 14 grams of protein. Similarly, Applegate Naturals The Blend burger products marries turkey or beef with mushrooms to get 15 grams of protein per serving, as well as fewer grams of saturated fat thanks to the vegetables.

Misfit Foods takes this approach with their sausages, but the starring ingredients are kale, gold squash, and sweet potato, and spice blends for extra flavor. Though alternative protein sources (such as the omnipresent pea) aren't used, there is still a respectable 10 grams of protein per serving.

Like the rise of any new food trend, careful label reading should come into play with blended meat products, especially since many of these have long ingredients lists to consider. Sourcing and quality of the meat used in these blended products is also something to keep in mind, as you would when buying any other kind of meat. And generally, any RD would tell you that whole foods, minimally-processed protein options are best.

Still, for those looking to eat more plants while still getting at least a portion of their protein from meat, the trend provides a way to do so. "Blended products are a delicious and easy way to eat more veggies and less meat," Betts says. In his mind, it's the best of both worlds.

The question that remains: Can the taste truly rival the alt-meat products crafted to mimic the "real thing"? If so, this trend is only going to get bigger.

Here's why the rise in plant-based eating is here to stay. Plus, find out which way of eating is healthier: plant-based or vegan.

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