Plant power

Headquartered in Nashville, NC, Atlantic Natural Foods (ANF) is a leading shelf-stable, plant-based food and beverage manufacturer and is represented via four recognized brands – Loma Linda®, neat®, Kaffree Roma and TUNO™

With a mission to provide reasonably priced and nourishing sources of plant-based protein products for all lifestyles, ANF creates, manufactures, and distributes high-quality foods and beverages that focus on delivering both taste and value.

While plant-based foods and vegetarian/vegan diets may have seen surges in popularity over recent times, ANF is actually able to draw on a very rich heritage, which extends back to 1890 and Loma Linda®’s founding by Dr J.H. Kellogg. Famous for his invention of the cornflake, Dr Kellogg was a major leader in progressive health reform and a believer in the benefits of a vegetarian diet. ANF inherited this long history of selling plant-based proteins when it acquired Loma Linda® in 2014.

As Douglas Hines, Chairman and General Partner of ANF explained, the company has always remained focused on an ambient finished product as this is a global need. “Today, our mission and focus is to provide affordable, sustainable and healthy sources of plant-based proteins, to enable people to live healthier, longer lives and address food insecurity,” he stated.

Building on the solid foundations established over more than a century, when the Loma Linda® brand was brought into the ANF fold, the business started to create its new product portfolio to meet the needs of today’s consumers. As a result, among its plant-based products can now be found a generous selection of sustainable, non-GMO meat alternatives, gluten-free baking mixes, as well as ready-to-eat meals in a pouch.

“Within Loma Linda®, we have three sub-categories: Meal Starter, Meal Solutions and TUNO™,” Douglas continued with some more details on the range. “We are thankful that our products appeal to a wide base of consumers ranging from meat reducers and meat replacers to traditional vegan consumers. Our Meal starters resonate with meat replacers looking for a like-meat option. Meal Solutions are a quick, convenient on-the-go meal option. TUNO™ attracts consumers that are looking for another option to the traditional tuna sandwich they grew up eating, while developing the first shelf-stable industrial/catering option that meets consumers grab-and go-requirements.”

Another brand under the ANF umbrella is neat®, which offers 100 per cent all-natural, innovative gluten and soy-free vegetarian/vegan foods to consumers who are looking to reduce or eliminate animal-based protein in their diets without sacrificing their favorite recipes.

“We are also proud to serve a roasted grain beverage that’s a delicious alternative to coffee, offering the benefits of being acid-free and caffeine-free,” said Douglas, referring to Kaffree Roma. Shelf stable and easy to prepare, Kaffree Roma can be drunk as you would a traditional instant coffee, or it can be included in desserts such as cakes, cookies and more.

New product launches
The range of products available from ANF is wide ranging and designed to satisfy the tastes of a diverse range of diners. Addressing the needs of these increasingly sophisticated consumers who are looking for affordable and convenient new menu options is a top priority for ANF. “We spend a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy on research and development,” Douglas confirmed. “We are a global company, and our success comes when we listen and create products that meet the needs of local markets. Many of our recipes are single country products because it is those flavors and profiles that meet the needs of those consumers.”

The company’s new product development team has been busy recently creating two deliciously innovative options that are due to launch exclusively at Costco across the United States this summer. “We have created Hawaiian Bowls and Ultimate Vegetarian Chili, both of which are shelf-stable, plant-based Meal Solution products, and will be available in packages of six 10-ounce (285g) pouches. In 2021, we will look to rollout these items in different packaging formats to meet various channel requirements.

“The Hawaiian Bowls feature brown rice with pineapple, bell pepper, peas, ginger, and minced vegetable protein. The Ultimate Vegetarian Chili has a deliciously savory and slightly spicy dish. It includes pinto beans, red kidney beans, vegetable protein crumbles, tomatoes, and spices, and is a sister product of our award-winning Chipotle Bowl.”

The dish that Douglas referred to – the Chipotle Bowl – is ANF’s best seller in the United States, and it is made with wholesome brown rice, black beans, tomatoes, corn and a deliciously balanced chipotle sauce. “This is one of our quick and convenient Meal Solutions and these are our best-selling products,” he added. “They are plant-based, non-GMO and gluten free meals that have globally inspired flavors.

“In the UK, our latest addition, TUNO™ in Springwater, has been the leader of the line. TUNO™ was the first plant-based, fish alternative and these products are very versatile in that you can make sandwiches, salads, appetizers, spring rolls or even sushi from them.”

This is an impressive achievement for TUNO™, because as Michael Easterbrook, the European agent for ANF, explained, the canned and pouch TUNO™ products were only launched in May 2019, in the UK supermarket chain Morrisons. “This was quickly followed by business in Holland & Barrett, which launched not only canned TUNO™, but also two Loma Linda® ready meals,” he continued, before adding more details about the UK and Irish market for ANF products. “Business soon developed in the wholesalers and other smaller distributors such as Tree of Life, The Health Stores, Suma and Vegan Kind. Both Aldi and Lidl have taken ‘special purchases’ and this should be repeated again later in the year. Business with Amazon has been ongoing for nearly a year now.

Morrisons have now confirmed the business for year two with the addition of four Loma Linda® ready meals and the 8th July saw us start a major promotion with them, too.

“In Southern Ireland, we have just agreed new business with Wholefoods Wholesale that will shortly give our consumers access to our brand in all of the country. From September this year, we will also be launching some products in another major supermarket, which will further raise our brand profile and expand our availability to more consumers. We are also currently developing some new and exciting range extensions that should be available before the year end. Discussions are also taking place in the UK with foodservice/manufacturing suppliers, but clearly this industry will take time to recover from the pandemic situation.”

Continual development
With the European market presenting such promising opportunities for growth, as well as the potential for expansion in the US, Douglas and his team are very aware that maintaining the quality of ANF’s range of products is paramount. One of the ways that this is achieved is through owning and operating its own manufacturing facility in Nashville, NC, and participating in a joint venture with Pataya Food Group in Bangkok, Thailand.

Douglas shared some insights behind the formation of the JV. “The shareholders at ANF have a long history with global sourcing and Thailand is a unique natural location as it allows fresh vegetables and hand batching as well all the latest packaging formats. The relationships in the region date back over 30 years, and the JV allows for each of the partners to be part of the larger commitment to sustainability of our Earth’s resources. It is also refreshing to produce a unique value-added product where many of the ingredients are sourced locally.

“Both locations are FDA-approved facilities, Kosher-qualified, non-GMO assured, with SQF level 3 verification – we uphold only the most stringent health and food safety practices,” Douglas added. “We are also a proud member of the Plant Based Foods Association.”

The state-of-the-art technology employed within these facilities is critical to the continuation of ANF’s leading position in the plant-based sector. “We have a commitment to ourselves and to our consumers to stay as close to nature as possible,” said Douglas. “Technology has had truly inspiring advancements and our focus is to make tasty convenient products that appeal to a broad audience. Saying that, we are adding new press equipment to improve flexibility and texture, while we are in trials to enhance our core artisanal grains. A commitment to continual change is critical in this development.”

Additionally, the company is increasing its production with Pataya Food Group under Healthy Life Foods Co., Ltd., while enhancing production in its North Carolina facility to meet increased product demand. “Our largest constraint to date has been production capacity, and in Q4 2020, we will be moving into a 47,000 sq. ft dedicated facility which will allow for additional capacity,” Douglas revealed.

Tradition of excellence
The extra amount of resource that this new factory will provide is arriving at the perfect time as both the traditional plant-based and meat replacement markets are experiencing growth. “There are a lot of curious and adventurous eaters entering into this space and they have a willingness to try new items and flavors,” Douglas agreed. “The good news is that we are seeing plant-based sales outpace sales rates of traditional grocery categories. Our focus has been shelf-stable, ambient products, which are just now finding their way into the mainstream and we lead this category.

“There has been a tremendous amount of companies entering this market, particularly in the area of refrigerated and frozen options. It’s been terrific to have all of the marketing dollars flood this category and it has pushed the awareness to new heights. It has turned plant-based eating from a trend into a movement and it has been a beautiful transformation.”

Having upheld a tradition of excellence for over 100 years and stayed true to its maxim ‘good for you, good for the planet’, it is no surprise that learn that ANF is also dedicated to its own staff, which it regards as its ‘greatest assets’ and their welfare was a top priority during the recent Covid-19 pandemic. “Our first concern was keeping our employees and their families safe,” said Douglas. “Within the facility we implemented health checks, stricter entry guidelines, restricted entry to those not in our environment and introduced more frequent sanitation in shared areas. We also provided our employees with additional funds to ensure that they had the means to maintain a healthy environment at home and in the places they travelled to outside of work. Our folks are our family and we keep that commitment. I am proud of all of them as they took the responsibility of being essential workers personally and came together to provide food to our consumers.”

As we now enter the second half of 2020, Douglas and his team have ambitious plans for the future. “Our brands will continue their global expansion and penetrate deeper within the countries where we have a footprint. Research shows that there are excellent opportunities for growth within Europe,” he concluded. “We are extremely excited for 2021, as we have a lot of exciting new concepts and flavors that we are looking forward to sharing with our customers, and we will continue to champion a plant-based lifestyle, that is rooted in sustainable practices, as we believe that this will benefit future generations.”