Perdue Farms
Alternate breeds at Perdue research farm

Perdue Explores Non-Meat Options as Plant Protein Appetite Grows

Sept. 6, 2018
The nearly 100-year-old chicken producer is exploring plant-based proteins.

by Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany

It's a sign of the times that 98-year-old Perdue Farms Inc. is looking at selling non-meat protein products alongside its signature chickens and turkeys.

"Our vision is to be the most trusted name in premium protein," Chairman Jim Perdue said. "It doesn't say premium meat protein, just premium protein. That's where consumers are going."

The closely held company is looking at an "all of the above" strategy, eyeing smaller startup companies, pure vegan options and those that combine meat, plant-based proteins and vegetables, Perdue said. He declined to identify possible targets, but said the company is exploring multiple options.

"You can do it yourself," said the chairman, whose grandfather founded the company in 1920. "You can go out and invest or acquire the experience and intellectual capital."

Alternatives to meat, whether made from plants or animal-free meat grown in labs, have emerged as one of the hottest food trends as consumers try to cut meat consumption. Sales of alternative proteins are dwarfed by the $49 billion red meat and chicken market, but they'll grow 17% a year to $863 million in 2021, CoBank estimates.

Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. are among those investing in cellular agriculture companies such as Memphis Meats Inc., while plant-based burger companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have attracted hefty venture capital funding from the likes of Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio.

 The Impossible Burger is a vegetarian option with plant-based heme added to give it a "meaty" taste.

Perdue has no plans yet to join Cargill and Tyson in cellular agriculture. "That's really, really, really in its infancy and there may be an option sometime down the road," he said. "We would want to do a lot of research on how the consumer views that."

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