Chicago Meatless-Burger Maker Takes On The Giants

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Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have roiled the meat business with their realistically performing hamburger analogs, deals with fast-food chains and breathless media coverage of their ingenuity.

But Lightlife Foods and its president, Dan Curtin, have taken aim at what might be the soft underbelly of the fake-burger phenomenon: the fact that these new products are designed meticulously in a laboratory, highly processed, and include lots of derived ingredients.

American consumers generally have demonstrated an increasing desire for simple ingredient lists and “real,” whole foods. And although Beyond and Impossible burgers are “plant-based,” hitting another hot spot in today’s consumer market, they aren’t simply plucked off the vine.

Lightlife was a pioneer in plant-based meat analogs long before the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat were even conceptualized; it was an $80-million brand in 2018, according to Dun & Bradstreet. And in a new ad campaign launching a simplification of the ingredients for its imitation burgers, sausages and other products, Chicago-based Lightlife is boldly taking on the new meatless-burger giants from California.

“An Open Letter to Beyond Meat & Impossible Foods,” read the headline of a recent full-page ad placed by Lightlife in the Wall Street Journal. It went on to read, “Enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMOs, unnecessary additives and fillers, and fake blood. While we want the same things – a greener planet and a more sustainable food system – at Lightlife, we’ve chosen a very different way to get there.

“We’re making a clean break from both of you ‘food tech’ companies that attempt to mimic meat at any cost,” the ad continued, explaining Lightlife’s own commitment to “using simple ingredients” that “are clean, recognizable and simple to pronounce.” It was signed by Lightlife President Dan Curtin.

What did Curtin mean? Well, indeed, scientists developed the two companies’ fake-ground-beef products in laboratories and engineered them carefully to mimic meat, right down to “bleeding” on the grill and including synthetically produced soy leghemoglobin for flavor and color.

“The future of plant-based is around clean and nurturing that tastes delicious,” Curtin told Chief Executive. Lightlife’s simplification of its ingredient list – in line with modern consumers’ expectations – “is an opportunity to challenge not only our own team but to challenge the industry: Let’s clean up our act.”

Lightlife took out the ad, Curtin said, because “we want to speak from the heart and from facts, and that’s what we did. Let’s get it out there and let consumers know there are options – better options that fit what they told us they were looking for that wasn’t in the marketplace before we made changes.”

The company, a unit of Canada-based, $4-billion Maple Leaf Foods, also has been advertising its position in other media channels and changed the packaging of its remade product line to emphasize its simple ingredients.

Consumer response via social media has been “really good,” including “strong feelings on both sides” of the issue that Lightlife highlighted, Curtin said. “We’re excited that we created this discussion.” Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods responded only obliquely via social media, he said.

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