A Petaluma vegan food producer is partnering with online gift basket giant Harry & David to feature plant-based meat alternatives they hope will give Hickory Farms a run for its money.
Renegade Foods’ vegan salami and chorizo — which launched a few years ago — top off baskets offered as the “vegetarian charcuterie and cheese collection” ($105) and the “premium alternative meat charcuterie” ($75). This is a first for vegan meat in gift baskets sold by Harry & David, of Medford, Oregon.
The two companies plan to expand their collaboration, which may involve other alternative meats currently in trials, Renegade Foods CEO Iona Campbell said.
While the gift baskets are considered year-round offerings, Campbell believes more customers will tap into the unique collection for the holidays, as the total revenue in the last quarter of the calendar year makes up more than half of Harry & David’s business.
“Vegans around the holidays always face challenging times,” she said. The end-of-year holidays are often capped off with a feast that centers around a meat dish.
Last year, Campbell accumulated at least 25 wholesale accounts to sell her unique brand of plant-based meat alternatives, including the Good Earth Natural Foods in Marin County and Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.
Campbell mentioned sales have been brisk, but Campbell declined to provide financial details for the privately held company.
She started the European-style vegan salami company in June 2019. Since then and despite COVID-19-related challenges that many companies have faced, she managed to eke out $300,000 in direct-to-consumer sales by mid-2021 and increased her staff from five employees to eight.
Campbell said she sees much growth potential in lining up with Harry & David, a 112-year-old company known nationwide for its unique gourmet food presentations.
“This is huge, not just for Renegade, but for the vegan movement in general,” Campbell said.
Harry & David management agrees.
“The demand for alternatives meat offerings has surged. We have been in the market for a vegan charcuterie vendor, and at the same time, Renegade made an inquiry with our brand, so it was a perfect match,” Harry & David Senior Director of Merchandising Sierra Castellano said.
Castellano expressed interest in furthering business arrangements with the Sonoma County vegan food company, which also has offices in Berkeley.
“We are going to be adding more plant-based and vegan products in order to provide our health-conscious shoppers with even more options,” Castellano said.
The senior executive mentioned it would also like to fulfill a hole in its baskets with a vegan cheese offering.
That declaration may represent the hallmark of new opportunity for Miyoko’s Creamery, another Petaluma plant-based food producer that reaped the benefits of a banner year in 2021 with a $52 million infusion of venture capital.
The company also made news by winning a First Amendment-inspired lawsuit that allows founder and CEO Miyoko Schinner to use the term “vegan butter” and cow images in its advertising.
To Schinner, the plant-based food industry has reached a critical plateau. But she is not discouraged by the recent struggles of one of the sector’s best known national brands.
Beyond Meat’s stock price has dropped 80% in the past year. Further, McDonalds, according to the New York Times, has flipped on including the vegan burger option on its menus.
To Schinner, the fallout is an example of a short-sightedness on how to market these products.
“It’s the industry’s and investors’ lack of understanding (about the market). They think ‘just go big,’ and that’s not it. I think that’s a big mistake,” she said.
Schinner insists the best returns will be gained from “targeting people” to buy the plant-based products.
“I don’t think it’s the average American going to burger joints,” she said.
Vegans and vegetarians represent a limited market. “Flexitarians” is the buzzword for consumers who are omnivores that lean toward healthy food options produced in an eco-friendly environment. Many plant-based food marketers are looking to them for expansion of their customer base.
That leaves the industry with much room to expand.
“It’s still growing. Sure, inflation has affected spending patterns, but the industry is not done. It’s new. The question is how to grow it,” she said.
Wildbrine CEO Chris Glab agreed with Schinner’s assessment of how the industry may improve, despite the experience reported by Beyond Meat.
“These kinds of trends always come out hot and never get as big as expected,” he said. “You gotta have staying power and adjust to the market.”
His company saw a 2%–3% annual growth in grocery store sales grow to 20%–30% spikes in 2020. The Sonoma County company averages the production of more than 200,000 pounds of product each week for Oliver’s Markets and Whole Foods Market, two of the grocers selling Wildbrine products.
Glab hopes the various categories of plant-based foods will catch on beyond the obvious burger patty and beverages categories on a national scale.
Indeed, plant-based food sales have shown growth.
Last week, the Plant Based Foods Association out of San Francisco reported plant-based food sales grew 6.2% year over year in 2021, to a record $7.4 billion. A companion survey by the association and the Plant Based Foods Institute also found 95% of plant-based consumers reported increasing their spending in the food category. About half of those surveyed declared they were motivated by “personal health concerns.”
The research is seen by the industry as critical to comprehending a consumer’s motives for buying these particular products.
“One of the ways we can measure the impact of plant-based foods is to understand the displacement of animal-based foods in favor of plant-based foods through comprehensive research,” stated Julie Emmett, senior director of marketplace development at Plant Based Food Institute, an industry trade group. “We must remove barriers for consumers by understanding shopper dynamics.”
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach Wood at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]