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The wold’s world’s largest meat company has launched a vegan meat range as demand for alternative protein surges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new line, called Ozo, was created by Brazillian meat giant JBS. It will include burgers, ground, Mexican-seasoned ground and Italian-style meatballs made from pea protein and will launch in stores including Albertsons and Safeway locations in Rocky Mountain states, and Kroger in 12 states.

‘Not saying meat is bad’

Darcey Macken is the CEO of Planterra Foods – a subsidiary of JBS USA where Ozo is being developed.

She told Forbes: “We’re not saying that meat is bad. People getting their heads wrapped around plants can be for all different motivations, whether it’s about earth and sustainability or just not eating animals.”

The meat industry and coronavirus

The coronavirus seems to have had a significant impact on consumers opting for plant-based alternatives: according to data from the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), sales of vegan foods increased by 90 percent (compared to the same period last week) during the third week of March – when most shutdowns started in the U.S. A month later, they were still 27 percent higher.

Speaking about how the growth of plant-based sales was outpacing the growth of total food sales, Julie Emmett, senior director of retail partnerships at the Plant Based Foods Association, said: “This new data shows that consumers are turning to plant-based food options now more than ever.

“Even after the highest panic-buying period, plant-based foods growth remains strong, proving that this industry has staying power.”

Plant-based

Tony Olson, owner and CEO of retail insight company SPINS, added: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a continued shift in consumer purchasing toward natural and organic products that enhance health and immunity.

“Our data shows, the plant-based meat boom of last year continues and as reports of animal-based meat shortages increase, we can expect plant-based meat to gain even more traction.”

Meat and coronavirus

There are a multiple reasons suggested for this surge: the coronavirus pandemic has had a well-documented impact on the meat industry: U.S. slaughterhouses were branded ‘COVID-19 hotpots’ by a top analyst earlier this year.

High infection rates led to more than 20 meat processing plants across the country being shuttered. This led to farmers killing animals in a practice the industry calls ‘depopulating’ – which takes them out of the food supply.

This, a Bloomberg report said, meant customers were finding themselves in ’empty meat aisles, searching for protein’.

‘Concerned’

These meat shortages in some stores, as well as concerns over safety, could be behind the boost in plant-based food sales.

Jeff Crumpton, manager of retail reporting at SPINS, told Forbes: “A lot of these hot spots are in meat processing facilities, and consumers are understandably concerned.

“They are seeing all these cases, and have this other solution, this other product that maybe they really like. It feels like a safer alternative, and it’s something that they can get their hands on.”

Maria Chiorando

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the editor of Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle.