Retail giant Ikea is jumping into the faux-meat space, putting a spin on its popular Swedish meatballs that it’s calling “plant balls.”
While that might not sound like haute cuisine, the chain says the product “looks and tastes like meat,” and fans won’t have to compromise “on the Ikea meatball experience that is loved by so many,” according to Sharla Halvorson, health and sustainability manager for the brand’s global food business.
Plant balls—made with yellow pea protein, oats, potatoes, onion and apple—launch in late September at cafes within U.S. stores, targeting flexitarians and omnivores. The fake meatballs will be served with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, vegetables and cream sauce, same as the traditional dish, and for the same $5.99 price tag. The product will also be available to buy frozen in roughly 1-pound bags.
Instead of partnering with one of the major players in the plant-based protein category, like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, Ikea has created its own vegan-friendly meatball substitute. But it’s clearly taken a cue from the success and growth of those brands, which have seen triple digit spikes in sales this year during the Covid-19 public health crisis.
This isn’t the first time Ikea has offered a non-meat meatball at its cafes. The “veggie ball” debuted in 2015 and reportedly will remain on the menu. But the new product is intended to mimic the smell, “mouth feel” and texture of beef and pork, which has catapulted pioneers like Beyond and Impossible into the mainstream.
The plant balls started rolling out in Europe this month, and the marketer has tagged the move as part of its broader sustainability goals. The faux meat product has a substantially lower climate footprint: 4% of the classic meatball’s impact. And since Ikea sells more than 1 billion Swedish meatballs each year, putting a dent in that number could help the chain in its pledge to become climate positive (meaning, reduce its greenhouse emissions) by 2030.
“If we were to convert about 20% of our meatball sales to plant balls that would mean around 8% reduction of our climate footprint for the food business,” Halvorson said in a statement.
The marketer has said it wants to see 20% of its food sales come from plant-based items by 2022.
The chain’s famously filling and addictive Swedish meatball, for trivia buffs, is one of the longest-lived products in the Ikea canon, along with the Billy bookcase, the Lack coffee table and the Klippan sofa. And though Ikea is best known as a home-goods seller, it’s also one of the world’s largest restaurant chains, with its senior leaders shouting out its cafes to Fortune in recent years as a secret weapon and a way to “keep people engaged and happy” while they scout for desks, rugs and lamps.