Health Mix: Reimagining Plant-Based Foods and the Rise of Kombucha

Thanks to ever-increasing consumer demand, foods with healthy, cleaner, and less processed ingredients are becoming more and more accessible throughout the industry. Hosted by brand consultant Yareli Quintana, the Health Mix podcast is committed to exploring all things “healthy” and unpacking what the term truly means in relation to emerging brands, foods, and lifestyles.

In the podcast’s opening two episodes, Quintana chats with Tyler Lorenzen, the CEO and president of plant-based food producer Puris, and Melanie Wade, the founder of kombucha and fermentation company Cultured South.

First founded in the 1980s by Lorenzen’s father, Puris supplies other brands that sell plant-based products in stores with nourishing, high quality pea protein. The company also helps participating brands with crafting product recipes.

Lorenzen describes Puris as part of the “intel” behind the plant-based movement.

“At the heart, we’re a seed company,” says Lorenzen. For him, the concept of the company has always been “that if we’d design better seeds, people will grow more organic and non-GMO crops. And if they could grow them, we’ll buy what they grow back and then make them into great tasting food. And that great tasting food will feed people the nutrition they need.”

The ultimate goal for Puris is to rework the system from feeding plants to animals and feeding animals to humans to simply having people eat healthy and delicious plants that fully meet the nutritional needs of humans.

As a former athlete, Lorenzen is particularly excited by the growing movement in athletics and sports nutrition toward plant-based products. “Athletes are choosing plant-based for performance reasons,” says Lorenzen, adding, “Can you sustain human life and have a highly nutritious life by plant based proteins? The answer is unequivocally yes.”

Listen to the podcast above to learn more about the history of Puris, the company’s current goals, and the future of the plant-based industry.

Cultured South is the offshoot creation of Wade’s original kombucha company—Golda Kombucha, the first and only kombucha company in Atlanta. The concept was inspired by Wade’s Grandma Golda, an avid kombucha maker and drinker. Golda Kombucha products are currently featured in over 100 Kroger and Whole Foods markets.

Cultured South is essentially a marketplace for local healthy southern food. The marketplace is also adjacent to a 1,200 square foot tap room that offers twelve different types of kombucha on tap, a vegan cheese tray, local crackers, pickles, and jam, and local vegan and dairy gelato.

“I wanted to create a space where people in Atlanta could come together over a love of kombucha and fermented things,” says Wade. The goal was “to experience and educate and not necessarily have to have alcohol in play to coordinate and connect with one another.”

Kombucha enthusiasts highlight the drink’s benefits for your gut and gastrointestinal tract. The drink is nutrient-dense and filled with probiotics. For Wade, the drink is the perfect alternative to the sugary and syrupy sodas currently available in today’s market.

Sustainability is a key element of the company’s mission. Cultured South recently switched from glass to cans, as Atlanta does not recycle glass.

“It’s really changed our business for the better,” notes Wade. “We can produce a lot more. It’s the most sustainable way that we’ve ever made kombucha because our product is 100 percent recyclable.”

Check out the podcast above to learn more about the benefits of drinking kombucha, the numerous flavors Golda Kombucha and Cultured South offers, and about water kefir—the probiotic beverage Wade terms the “mellow cousin” to kombucha.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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Dunkin’ Partners with Beyond Meat for a Plant-Based Breakfast

Dunkin’ is adding plant-based meat to its menu. The fast food chain has partnered with plant-based meat producer Beyond Meat to offer the brand new Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich.

As of yesterday, the sandwich is already available to purchase in 163 Manhattan locations. The chain appears poised to offer the sandwich nationwide in each of its 9,400 Dunkin’ locations by 2020. According to Dunkin’, this is the first time a Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich has ever been sold in any restaurant in the United States.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, CEO David Hoffmann affirmed the company’s commitment to the product. “We absolutely believe this will move the sales needle for us. It’s a damn good product.”

Dunkin’ is responding to a growing consumer demand for plant-based meat products. And Dunkin’ is hardly the first fast food chain to recognize and invest in the concept: White Castle, Red Robin, Burger King, Little Caesars, and a number of other businesses have also partnered with plant-based giants like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. With plant-based now a billion dollar industry, it has become clear to restaurants large and small that meat substitutes are well worth investing in.

The Plant Based Foods Association reports that over the past year, plant-based meat sales has gone up by 10 percent, while refrigerated plant-based meat has gone up by 37 percent. Beyond Meat stock has also surged post-IPO by a whopping 734 percent according to Business Insider.

Hoffmann noted to CNN that for now, the company is still in the process of considering vegan sandwiches. “Right now we’re targeting flexitarians,” says Hoffmann. “[We] want to make sure that as we roll this out, we can give the customer a chance to customize this.”

Alpha Food Labs and the Future of Food

At its core, Alpha Food Labs has a simple mission: research, invest in, and create innovative foods that are more sustainable, healthy, and tasteful than what currently exists today. And co-founder and co-CEO Mike Lee is committed to bringing the conversation around the future of food and its current problems to the community.

“The future of food is everything,” says Lee. “We want to inspire and educate the food industry on where the future of food might go. We’re not dictating what the future of food will be—we’re offering opportunities for conversation and inspiration.”

While growing up in Detroit, Lee loved to go to The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) every year. He most loved to see the cars that were not going to be for sale: the concept cars. Lee eventually began to ask himself: “Who is doing concept car level stuff in food?” Concept cars are designed to inspire other automakers; he wanted a food company that did the same for the industry.

And consumers are asking for it. “People have woken up to the fact that food impacts your body and the environment in very profound ways,” says Lee. Plant-based has become a billion dollar industry, and what started as a niche market is becoming a key investment for companies like Tyson Foods.

Alpha Food Labs also includes companies Food+Tech Connect and The Future Market. Food+Tech Connect specializes in providing the most up-to-date research on what is currently happening in food technology, while The Future Market offers concept food products and experiences largely based on that research.

Lee and his company have been involved in flavor development for a number of products, including plant-based yogurt Lavva. The yogurt uses plant-based ingredients—including Pili nuts, young plantains, coconut, and cassava—that together create a creamy, delicious taste eerily similar to that of animal-based yogurt.

Lee does not advocate for any particular diet, and is determined to maintain a critical eye on all types of products—whether animal-based or plant-based. “There is no such thing as one optimal diet,” adds Lee. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the right diet. It’s the diet that’s right for you.”

Listen to the above episode of Food Out Loud to learn more about the future of Alpha Food Labs and the ever-evolving problem of sustainability.

Produced by:

Nathan Mikita

Producer

Summer Fancy Food Show Highlights Plant-Based The Little Beet

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) annually hosts the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City. The largest specialty food and beverage event in North America, the Summer Fancy Food Show features a growing number of restaurants and organizations focused on providing innovative menus and products.

This year, host Paul Barron interviewed a number of leaders in the industry. Becky Mulligan, a former Starbucks executive and the new CEO of The Little Beet, offered her perspective on the growing consumer demand for plant-based products.

After spending sixteen years overseeing thousands of Starbucks units, Becky Mulligan switched gears in 2018 and joined The Little Beet team.

The fast casual veggie restaurant chain just seemed like a perfect fit. “It was perfect for my lifestyle,” says Mulligan. “I was drawn to the concept immediately.”

The Little Beet recently expanded its offerings to a full service gluten-free restaurant: The Little Beet Table. According to Mulligan, the two branches work in tandem: customers continue to go to The Little Beet for a quick, healthy breakfasts and lunches, and they go to The Little Beet Table for dinner, drinks, and special occasions.

“People are becoming more educated about what they consume,” notes Mulligan. “It’s helped us to have a broader platform to talk about why it’s good to have a plant-based diet.” While she emphasizes that plant-based foods should make up the bulk of your diet, balance rather than guilt is ultimately the goal. “We want consumers to have accessible food that is good for you—and that you want to eat.”

All food at both The Little Beet and The Little Beet Table is made fresh everyday. All vegetables and ingredients are prepared from scratch, and the company avoids added sugars and non-blended oils. These prerequisites can be challenging for staff in terms of ensuring everyone is served in a timely fashion, but rewarding for the brand and customers alike.

The Little Beet currently consists of ten units, and there are four The Little Beet Table locations. Mulligan says the company hopes to double those numbers by next year. The chain is also developing a beverage platform.

Check out the video above to learn more about the future of The Little Beet and the company’s plant-based mission.

Panera Bread Rolls Out Climate-Friendly Dinner Options

Lunch hotspot Panera Bread is adding dinner to the menu this summer. The sandwich chain is currently testing a menu featuring hearty meals available from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida, and intends to test the “dinner-centric” menu in nine additional locations in Lexington, Kentucky beginning next month.

In a news release, Panera Bread also noted the company’s goal to continue to provide customers with healthy options for themselves and their children — including for dinner. “Panera’s craveable new dinner options are helping to meet guests demand to eliminate the trade-off between good for you and ease. Like all Panera menu items, all offerings are 100 percent clean with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.”

The meals are still designed to be quick. Sara Burnett, the vice president of wellness and food policy for Panera, emphasized that the company is endeavoring to balance the ideals of fast and healthy for busy individuals and families. “People are often challenged by the dichotomy between convenience and quality,” she says. And the chain does not want its customers to “have to trade one for the other, especially dinner on the go.”

By sales, Panera is the tenth-largest chain in the United States. And dinnertime purchases provide, on average, about a quarter to a third of the company’s sales. According to Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer Dan Wegiel, customer feedback suggests that the light soups, salads, and sandwiches currently provided by Panera Bread make for a healthy, but unsatisfying dinner.

The new dinner options include more sizable and satisfying meals, including flatbread pizzas, bowls, and meatier sandwiches that still utilize popular Panera flavors. New vegetable sides have also been added.

One noteworthy addition is the Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Artisan Flatbread, featuring smoked pulled chicken, chopped bacon, garlic cream sauce, fresh mozzarella and fontina, red grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and the chain’s classic chipotle aioli.

With food production contributing up to a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions, chicken is becoming an increasingly preferred protein option for restaurants and customers alike. When compared with plant-based foods, animal-based food production necessitates a much larger carbon footprint.

Beef production uses, on average, about 20 times the land that plants necessitate, and results in at least 20 times as many carbon emissions as the average plant. And cows, goats, and sheep alike emit the highly potent greenhouse gas, methane.

For concerned meat lovers, there is a more carbon-friendly option than beef. According to a study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey examining the average daily eating habits of over 16,000 participants, chicken is a drastically better option than beef when it comes to carbon.

Of any type of meat, beef has the heaviest footprint, regardless of how it is cut. Chicken, in contrast, has one of the lightest footprints of animal proteins. Chickens are a surprisingly efficient source of protein, requiring far less fertilizer and land acreage.

Diego Rose, the lead author on the study and a researcher at Tulane University, stresses that every person needs to be proactive in combating climate change. “Climate change is such a dramatic problem,” he says. According to Rose, the only way to curb destructive increases in global warming is to curb the global beef, goat, and lamb consumption. “All sectors of society need to be involved.”

In another study using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index, Rose found that people who maintained a healthy diet typically have low carbon footprints. Plant-based diets consistently correlate with improved personal health and positive environmental effects.

Panera Bread does offer a plant-based menu for climate-conscious consumers. The menu includes sandwiches, bowls, soups, and a number of fresh smoothies. According to Noel White, the current president and CEO of Tyson Foods, plant-based and alternative protein menu items have been “experiencing double-digit growth.” Tyson Foods just added a plant-based brand to its product line.

Panera’s Wegiel maintains that the chain is looking toward the future. “We stepped back about a year ago ... to say, ‘Over the next five years, where are we going to grow? Where are we going to get most of our value creation?’”

In regards to growth, Panera Bread has already added to its menu options this year: the chain successfully expanded its breakfast menu with new egg wraps, bakery items, and a remodeled coffee program. Restaurants and fast food chains like Taco Bell have instituted similar menu updates to boost sales.

At present, the majority of Panera’s delivery orders occur around lunchtime. And the chain has rebuffed any suggested partnerships with third-party delivery services: Panera Bread handles all delivery needs itself. With new dinner options, the company may need to rethink its delivery strategy in order to accommodate an increase in evening orders.

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.