(Corrects first and second paragraph to reflect that nuggets are not vegan or fully plant-based but vegetarian)
By Tina Bellon
June 13 (Reuters) - U.S. meat processor Tyson Foods Inc on Thursday launched its first vegetarian and mixed protein products as it joined a growing number of companies catering to rising demand for plant-based meat products.
Tyson will sell vegetarian nuggets, blended protein burgers made from beef and pea protein, and sausages and meatballs that combine chicken with plants including chickpeas, black beans and quinoa, the company said in a statement.
The products, under Tyson's new Raised & Rooted brand, will be sold through its customers, sales outlets and foodservice operators, Justin Whitmore, head of Tyson's alternative protein business, said in an interview, declining to elaborate.
The nuggets will be launched in the summer, and burgers in the fall, he added.
The largest U.S. meat processor, known for its Ball Park hot dogs and Jimmy Dean sausages, believes the company's long experience in protein product development, manufacturing and distribution puts it in a unique position to enter the plant-based market and drive sales across all segments.
Whitmore said it was too early to estimate revenues, calling Tyson's plant-based business highly incremental, but he noted that that could change.
"The double-digit growth in the sector is largely driven by meat eaters who want the health and nutrition that they perceive to come from plants along with the taste they've always had from animal protein," Whitmore said, adding that the company was working on additional plant-based products.
Tyson Chief Executive Noel White said in a statement the company remained firmly committed to expanding its traditional meat business, but is shifting toward becoming a protein company.
The change comes as many companies are trying to carve out a space in the U.S. alternative meat market which analysts estimate to be worth $100 billion by 2035.
California upstarts Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Foods Inc each sell 100% plant-based meat alternatives to retailers and fast food chains across the United States.
Tyson sold its 6.5% stake in Beyond Meat in late April, just days before the company went public, to focus on the development of its own plant-based products.
Vegan ground beef and burger patties by Canadian packaged meat producer Maple Leaf Foods Inc, sold under its LightLife brand, will be on U.S. store shelves this summer.
Nestle, the world's biggest packaged foods group, is aiming to sell a pea-based veggie patty called Awesome Burger under its U.S. plant-based Sweet Earth brand in the fall. (Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)