California-based Bristol Farms' new upscale grocery store in Yorba Linda will feature unpackaged versions of Before the Butcher's plant-based meats and entrées in its butcher section and deli case, according to Meat + Poultry.
The Yorba Linda outlet offers chicken burgers and breakfast sausage, meatless taco mix, vegetarian meatloaf, vegetarian stuffed cabbage, chorizo-stuffed potatoes and a Mediterranean-style meatless patty made by Bristol Farms chefs using Before the Butcher's ground products.
This is Before the Butcher's first retail partnership. It previously sold items only in the foodservice channel and at some restaurants, colleges, universities and stadiums. Company Founder and President Danny O'Malley told Meat + Poultry his company's products are where they belong at Bristol Farms. "We don’t refer to it as the meat department — it’s the protein department. We’re another protein source, and we believe we belong there with other protein sources and believe the consumer is ready for that."
While Bristol Farms is a relatively small grocery chain — it has 13 retail stores in Southern California — this development could be significant for both the meat industry and makers of plant-based meat alternatives. It's reportedly the first time unpackaged plant-based meat products and entrées have been displayed for sale in a grocery store butcher case, right next to the meatloaf and hamburger patties made from real beef.
The meat industry isn't likely to approve of this arrangement since it's opening the meat marketplace to plant-based alternatives a little wider. Cattle ranchers and meat processors aren't keen on having "fake meat" products displayed anywhere near theirs. They also vehemently oppose plant-based items carrying meat-like label terms such as "beef" or "burger."
This sentiment led to 11 state legislatures adopting laws restricting use of the term "meat" on plant-based or cell-cultured food products, according to The Good Food Institute. They include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming. Two of them — Missouri and Mississippi — have been sued by plant-based companies and advocates on constitutional grounds.
Meat industry representatives claim consumers are being misled about what plant-based alternatives contain because of their labeling. However, it's not likely anyone would mistake the Before the Butcher items in the Bristol Farms case for real meat. They're clearly marked with signs stating "Plant Based," and the individual products are flagged as "vegan" or "vegetarian." However, one recent survey showed consumers aren't always clear about what "plant-based" means.
Moving forward, it's possible Bristol Farms' retail arrangement with Before the Butcher will open the door to a number of other plant-based meat alternatives. It, along with other retailers, could now be besieged by plant-based meat manufacturers wanting to have their unpackaged products displayed behind glass at meat counters along with the ground beef, pork chops and steaks.
The number of manufacturers who may ask for that exposure is growing. Tyson Foods is launching both meatless and hybrid products this summer under its Raised & Rooted brand, and Nestlé plans to roll out its plant-based Awesome Burger this fall as part of the Sweet Earth line. Lightlife Foods recently introduced a plant-based burger, and Impossible Foods — which has predominately focused on restaurants — is planning to launch its burger in retail outlets later this year.
If it's successful, Before the Butcher's retail debut could also lead to increased funding for makers of plant-based meatless alternatives since investors tend to put their money behind impressive sales results. Last year, $673 million was invested in plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to a recent report from The Good Food Institute. And retail sales of plant-based meat products jumped 23% between 2017 and 2018 to more than $760 million, according to Nielsen data compiled by the industry group.
Regardless of where other groceries decide to put Before the Butcher's products in their butcher cases, consumers nationwide will see and hear more from them soon. The company announced last month it will sell its Uncut brand of plant-based burgers and meatless breakfast sausages in the meat departments of three large but unnamed retail outlets by the end of next month. The company was also recently acquired for an undisclosed amount by Gregg and Jeff Hamann, owners of Jensen Meat Co. of San Diego. O'Malley told Food Dive last month that the ground beef giant will help Before the Butcher "grow exponentially" and scale quickly.