Plant-based beef had a phenomenal 2019 with the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat exploding into the mainstream. These companies have certainly helped reinvent the feeble-perceived veggie burger of the past and prove that meat-eaters can eat animal-free­ and absolutely love it. What these companies have also done is help bring attention to the wonders of plant proteins, not just for taste, but the positive impacts for health, environment, and animal welfare. But beyond the beef, what other plant-based proteins will dominate the food scene—and headlines—in 2020?

Plant-Based Chicken

Chicken is a meat that’s ripe for plant-based disruption; after all, it is the most consumed meat in the US. There are a few long-time players in the space like Gardein, MorningStar Farms and Quorn, but newer companies coming onto the scene are using food science to make products very true to the real-deal chicken eager to capture the growing veg-curious consumer segment. Alpha Foods for example, is now in 8,000 stores nationwide including Walmart, Kroger, and others.

Albertsons/Safeway makes killer chicken nuggets that are well-positioned to win over meat-eaters and vegetarians and vegans alike. Their nuggets are made from non-GMO soy and are now palm-oil-free, a nice bonus. And, all their products are 100% plant-based. Alpha has continued steady expansion recently entering the Hong Kong market.

Now, many animal meat companies are jumping into space. Hormel’s new brand called Happy Little Plants launched earlier this year with “chicken” offerings. Kellogg’s product line is named Incogmeato; their working on fully prepared imitation chicken tenders and nuggets that will be sold in the freezer section next to traditional chicken. And the big brands that came up at a time when vegetarianism was all the rage, are realizing that vegan/plant-based is now more important. This is why MorningStar Farms and Gardenburger brands have reformulated a number of their products from vegetarian to vegan. MorningStar even added a “vegan” label on its products making it easier to meet dietary needs. But if your ethics drive your taste, you may prefer to support exclusive plant-based companies, like Alpha Foods.

If you’re skeptical about the plant-based chicken trend, just turn to the plant-based beef leader Beyond Meat. Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown dropped a huge teaser last week alluding to a  plant-based chicken coming to market in 2020. “You’ll see some exciting things from us in the poultry space in 2020,” Brown said in a Bloomberg TV interview, but was coy noting that “I can’t name specific partners or developments.” He did add they are working on a “whole muscle breast tissue.” Earlier this year Beyond Meat partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to test its Beyond Fried Chicken in Atlanta. It was a success drawing a huge crowd and selling out in five hours.

If there is one food more quintessentially American than the burger, it’s the chicken nugget. Keep an eye out for more plant-based chicken offerings in the freezer section and in restaurants in 2020.

Alpha Foods Chicken Nuggest

Alternative "Deli Meat"

Deli meats are one of those proteins that are tough to get right; the current store-bought options suffice, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Beyond store-bought packaged products, there is a huge opportunity for big-chain sandwich shops to become the Impossible Whopped of deli sandwiches; but to do this, a good “meat” is a must and emerging brands that are reinventing the plant-based deli meat will make this possible. Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli, for example, has managed to recreate impressive “corned beef” deli slices using beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, and spices. It’s a very clean ingredient deck with no food colorings or preservatives. The company appeared on Shark Tank in early 2019 and secured $250,000 in funding from Marc Cuban, and is already realizing the benefits. By the end of 2020, they’ll be in 54 Whole Foods across Arizona, California, and Nevada, with more distribution in the works. They’re also in a number of LA deli’s plus a favorite of the Industry, served on the Netflix Studio Lot to employees and sold across three Fox Studio commissaries to their more than 3,000 employees. Sub chain Quiznos is piloting plant-based deli meats, using Unreal Deli meats at its 16 Denver locations.

With new deli proteins coming onto the scene, you can expect mainstream Deli counters to start offering plant-based options or expand current test markets. For now, you can still get your hands on widely distributed store-bought vegan deli meats like Field Roast, Tofurky, and Smartlife. Also, chains like Ike’s Place (40+ locations in Southern California alone) are ahead of the curve, offering some incredibly delicious vegan sandwiches with a number of plant-based deli-meat options. In 2020, look out for big sub-chains catching on and offering plant-based options that even meat-eaters will love.

Seafood Substitutes

People are finally coming around to realize the immense environmental hazards associated with industrialized fishing. If there were an option that did not hurt the ocean and living creatures, would you be interested? Enter companies like New Wave Foods that have scientists and technology replicating seafood, like shrimp for example. (And New Wave gets pretty damn close to the real thing.) The product uses seaweed extract to provide the bite and texture of the “shrimp.” “Our plant-based shrimp...matches the texture, taste, performance, and versatility of shrimp fresh from the ocean,” said Mary McGovern, CEO of New Wave Foods in a September 2019 press release. “The proof is in the overwhelming, positive response we have had to the product.” New Wave recently locked down a round of funding from Tyson Ventures (Tyson Foods); with a juggernaut like this backing them, you can expect distribution and availability in 2020. While the company has not disclosed its ingredient list, it has indicated it’s not soy-based. It also contains no allergens, zero cholesterol and is lower in both calories and salt than real shrimp.

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Good Catch, Foods, an alternative seafood brand that has raised over $18.7 Million in the past year, offers tuna and crab meat substitutes that are a mix of six plant proteins: pea, soy, chickpea, lentil, faba, and navy bean. Algal oil and seaweed powder create that authentic seafood taste and aroma, and it is convincingly formulated to mimic the taste and seafood-like texture of tuna.

Ocean Hugger Foods’ tomato-based “tuna” is one that’s already on the market. Its staple item is “Ahimi” which can be most closely compared to ahi tuna. Ocean Hugger has picked up wide distribution—and growing—currently offered at over 40 Whole Foods locations (from the sushi deli counter), and in restaurants like Blue Sushi Sake Grill’s (across multiple states).

There are more players in the “clean meat” seafood space you will see come onto the scene in 2020. BlueNalu, a San Diego-based food science company just cooked the first-ever piece of yellowtail made without the killing of a fish. It’s made from cellular aquaculture using fish cells which they grow into fish “meat.” While plant-based fish may not be as readily available and plant-based beef or chicken, you can count on that changing soon. For the sushi-hungry public, it’s exciting to see an evolution away from the mundane “avocado roll” and really experience a protein-forward and more flavor-dense roll, minus the meat. Keep an eye out for sushi joints upping their veggie roll game with these clean meats in 2020.

Now that we’ve laid out our top plant-based proteins and products to watch, do you have your eye on any? Drop a comment below and let us and readers know.

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