MorningStar Farms’ familiar green packaging has long been a staple in the vegetarian sections of grocery freezer cases.
Through the years, the brand has maintained a high profile even as a slew of newer brands have launched their own versions of plant-based burgers, sausages, and other meat replacements.
Until recently, one key difference between MorningStar and the other brands has been that, while plant-based, many of its products weren’t vegan because they’re made with eggs.
But that’s changing. The brand is phasing in new vegan versions of its products and, by 2021, all 49 of its retail products and the 26 items it sells into foodservice channels will be vegan, the company said this week.
“MorningStar was a staple and we take the responsibility of being the number one veggie burger brand very seriously,” said Mel Cash, the head of global marketing for Kellogg Co.’s plant-based protein division.
The change comes as more consumers are turning to plant-based meat replacements to cut at least some animal-based meat out of their diets and get more veggies on their plates.
Plant-based meats are now sold at 95% of U.S. grocery stores, according to data compiled by the Good Food Institute, and sales grew 23% in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2018.
“MorningStar’s commitment to removing eggs from all their products will appeal to the growing audience looking for entirely plant-based options,” said Caroline Bushnell, senior marketing manager at the Good Food Institute.
Taking A Page From Former UNICEF Executive Director Jim Grant’s Revolutionary Playbook Consumers who seek out plant-based meats do so for reasons ranging from health, sustainability, and animal welfare, and the shift to vegan will help the brand appeal to more of those people, Bushnell said.
“MorningStar’s move will help them reach everyone, regardless of the reasons they are buying plant-based proteins.”
The switch from vegetarian to vegan means ending the use of about 300 million eggs each year, according to Morningstar, resulting in a significant reduction in water and land use. But making the change to new recipes isn’t as simple as trading one ingredient for another.
The transition started with the brand’s Chik’n line of nuggets and patties, a change that won social media buzz for the brand, Cash said.
Next to change will be the brand’s crumbles and then the breakfast items, including the popular sausage patties and links, and veggie burgers.
“The barrier often lies with taste,” Cash said. “When you go to make a change, you want to do it with confidence.”
The company has been experimenting with ingredients and recipes that allow it to maintain the taste, texture and protein levels that brand fans expect. The texture is especially key, she said.
Egg whites can act as a binder that holds the burger together, and eliminating them means finding plant-based ingredients that can make a veggie burger that doesn’t crumble and fall apart when you pick it up. The changes involve both innovation and renovation, Cash said.
The changes are being phased in to ensure that each product can either be replicated exactly or remade into something that’s slightly different but just as good.
“With every product, we’ll assess whether we can deliver on the taste and texture. If we feel like we can’t get there with renovation, it could look more like innovation.”
The brand’s roots stretch back to the Seventh Day Adventists’ efforts to make the first early versions of plant-based meat substitutes.
MorningStar was originally part of early Kellogg Co. rival Worthington Foods, which was ultimately acquired by Kellogg, and it has continued to innovate.
MorningStar, like other plant-based meat companies including Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Lightlife Foods, and Tofurky, has created a veggie burger that replicates ground beef.
This week the brand debuted a new version of its Meat Lover’s burger that’s made with vegan cheddar cheese mixed in.
The MorningStar Cheezeburger was officially introduced at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday.
The field of plant-based meat brands continues to grow, but demand may be growing faster and, for now, there’s likely room for many players.
“We’re making sure we’re delivering on what consumers want and what we believe is right,” Cash said.
“It’s less about having a competitive advantage and more about being able to satisfy as many people as possible who want to eat plant-based.”