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Lightlife Foods, Inc.
GenreFood manufacturing
Turners Falls, Massachusetts
United States
Key people
  • Dan Curtin (President)
  • Greenleaf Foods SPC
Lightlife "Smart Tenders"

Lightlife Foods is a company that produces food for plant-based diets. In 2018, its worth was estimated at $80 million.[2] It is best known for its plant-based veggie dog, Smart Dog, which launched in 1993.[3] In 2019, the company launched a plant-based burger to compete with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.[4] Lightlife Foods is a carbon-neutral company.[5]


Lightlife was founded in Greenfield, Massachusetts by Michael Cohen and Chia Collins[6] in 1979 before relocating to Turner Falls, Massachusetts, in 1998.[7] It was first founded as Tempeh Works in an old, converted car wash and officially became Lightlife in 1984 and tempeh was its main product.[8] Chia Collins, the President, on founding the company stated, "We were just two hippies in 1970s. We did not plan on building this size of a company...We were just into vegetarian eating, the wonders of the soybean, and we started out with tempeh."[9] They expanded their products to include plant-based meat alternatives, including now discontinued items Tofu Pups, Fakin Bacon, Phoney Bologna. These were later revamped to Smart Sausage, Smart Bacon and Smart Deli respectively with new recipes. They also created the popular Gimmie Lean Sausage, the name being a play on the Jimmy Dean sausage.

In the summer of 2000, ConAgra Foods acquired LightLife Foods, which was generating about $25 million in annual revenue at the time.[7][9] The sale was made due to the changing landscape of the natural foods industry; competitors were purchased my Kellogg's and Kraft Foods, and a small independently owned company would not be able to compete with such huge food conglomerates.[9] In an effort to keep the company engaged in the community, Michael Cohen, Lightlife's CEO at the time, said, "The deal calls for Lightlife to remain at its new facility in the Turners Falls section of Montague [Massachusetts], to retain its 145 employees, and to preserve Lightlife’s social mission," indicating the company's dedication to social consciousness especially regarding it's local community.[9] Although in 2010 ConAgra dissolved the administrative jobs and moved them to its Omaha headquarters, by 2013, it was still one of the area's largest employers.[10] They remain involved in the local rural community donating to the Green River Festival,[10] the Greenfield Triathlon,[11] and most recently Monte's March, an annual stunt that raises money for the Food Bank before thanksgiving.

Brynwood Partners acquired the company, which had roughly 90 employees at the time, from ConAgra Foods in September 2013.[7] In 2017, Maple Leaf Foods bought Lightlife Foods for $140 million plus related costs.[1][12] In 2019, LightLife introduced a plant-based burger produced with pea protein, garlic powder and beet powder for color.[13][1] Lightlife Foods launched its plant-based burger in foodservice before bringing it to retail stores.[14] Known for making products from soy protein and tempeh, the Lightlife Plant-Based Burger was instead developed with pea protein, coconut oil, and beet powder[15] because pea protein provided a meatier texture than soy protein.[4] Competitor Beyond Meat also uses pea protein in its plant-based burger.[16]

To meet the heightened demand of production, Lightlife Foods' parent company, Greenleaf Foods, broke ground of a new food processing plant in Shelbyville, Indiana[17] in 2019 and bought more than a year's worth of the pea protein the same year.[16] At the time, the Shelbyville plant was reported to be "North America's biggest plant-based protein facility" by the time is was fully operational. The plant cost $310 million and would double the production capacity of Lightlife and Field Roast, another Greenleaf Foods brand, with a forecast output of 60 million pounds of plant-based meat annually.[17] In March 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the plant-based meat category was reported to have experienced 18% growth year over year.[18] By May 2020, sales for fresh meat alternatives increased 255%,[19] accelerated by an unavailability of traditional meat that was created by supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.[20] In June 2020, Lightlife Foods reported that, despite a loss of foodservice business because of the pandemic, it expected sales to grow 30% in 2020.[18] In its 2020 annual report, the company reported increased sales of about $25 million compared to the previous year.[21]

A partnership between Soldier Field in Chicago and Lightlife Foods was announced in 2019. As part of the partnership, Lightlife's plant-based burgers would be sold at home games for the Chicago Bears.[22] In October 2020, Lightlife announced a deal with Bowlero Corporation, which operates bowling lanes in North America. As part of the deal, Lightlife's plant-based burger would be sold at Bowlero and Bowlmor Lanes locations and Lightlife sponsored the 2020 PBA Tour.[23]

In January 2021, Lightlife Foods' parent company, Greenleaf Foods, subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods, announced that it would purchase a food processing plant in Indianapolis, Indiana to exclusively produce tempeh products, putting construction of the Shelbyville, Indiana plant on hold.[24] The cost of the purchase was estimated at $100 million.[25] Dan Curtin, the President of Greenleaf Foods, claimed that "Lightlife Tempeh accounted for about 80% of total US tempeh dollar sales" in 2020.[26] The tempeh product line is available at over 18,500 retail locations, after Lightlife expanded the line into 3,500 Walmart stores in November 2020.[27]


KFC Plant-Based Chicken in Canada

Lightlife Foods produces an assortment of tempeh, soy protein, and pea protein products.

  • Smart Dogs - Launched in 1993,[28][3] Lightlife Smart Dogs are plant-based veggie dogs that were originally developed with soy protein, before being relaunched in 2012 with a new formula that included pea protein in addition to soy protein.[29]
  • Plant-Based Burger - Launched in 2019, the Lightlife Plant-Based Burger is made with pea protein, coconut oil and beet powder.[15] The burger is sold at Harvey's restaurant locations across Canada[30] and at Dave & Buster's restaurant across the United States and Canada.[31]
  • Plant-Based Chicken - Lightlife Smart Tenders are plant-based chicken made with soy protein.[32] In August 2020, Lightlife plant-based chicken became a permanent menu item at KFC restaurant locations in Canada.[33][34]

Advertising campaigns

Lightlife launched a campaign called "A Taste of Honesty" with actors Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard in 2019. The campaign was promoted across social media with a two-minute video and the hashtag #ATasteOfHonesty.[35] The ad was chosen by AdWeek as the ad of the day on October 8, 2019.[36] When a commenter on Instagram was concerned about possible exploitation of the children in the ad, Kristen Bell responded to clarify that the children in the ads were actors and not her own.[37]

Clean Break campaign

On August 25, 2020, Lightlife published an open letter advertisement in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to challenge competitors Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat about their use of "unnecessary additives, fillers, and fake blood" in their plant-based burgers.[38] In response, Impossible Foods published a blog post on the website Medium calling Lightlife's Clean Break campaign a "disingenuous, desperate disinformation campaign attempting to cast doubt on the integrity of our products".[39][40]

Lightlife Foods partnered with vegetarian late night host Lilly Singh to create an Instagram campaign called "Make a Clean Break with Lilly Singh" in October 2020.[41] The social campaign was featured on Lightlife's Instagram profile as a continuation of its Clean Break Campaign.[42] In the campaign, Singh provided advice to followers looking to "make a clean break from something in their lives".

See also


  1. ^ a b c Wilson, Mark (30 May 2019). "How an old veggie dog company is learning new tricks". Fast Company. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  2. ^ Buss, Dale (2020-10-19). "Chicago Meatless-Burger Maker Takes On The Giants". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  3. ^ a b Breslouer, Lee. "The Best Veggie Hot Dogs and Sausages to Grill With Right Now". Thrillist. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Mark (2019-05-30). "How an old veggie dog company is learning new tricks". Fast Company. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  5. ^ "Plant-Based Proteins for People and the Planet". Food Tank. 2020-12-12. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  6. ^ Curtis, Chris (2012-10-01). "Brynwood Partners, new owners of Lightlife Foods in Turners Falls, hope to grow business". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved 2021-12-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ a b c Watson, Elaine (2013-09-17). "ConAgra sells meat alternatives brand Lightlife to Brynwood Partners". Food Navigator USA. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  8. ^ "Our Story | Lightlife". Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  9. ^ a b c d Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (2014). History of Meat Alternatives (965 CE to 2014): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook. Lafayette, CA: Soyinfo Center. p. 1164. ISBN 9781928914716.
  10. ^ a b Curtis, Chris (2013-09-22). "Lightlife sold to private equity firm". Greenfield Recorder. Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  11. ^ ""Annual Events"". Franklin County, Massachusetts. 2021-12-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ Lahiri, Diptendu; Sadam, Rishika (2017-02-21). "Canadian meat processor Maple Leaf to buy U.S.-based Lightlife Foods". Reuters. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  13. ^ "Plant-Based Burgers". Lightlife. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  14. ^ Forgrieve, Janet. "Lightlife Serves A Beefier Plant-Based Burger For Its 40th Birthday". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  15. ^ a b Moskin, Julia (2019-10-22). "How Do the New Plant-Based Burgers Stack Up? We Taste-Tested Them". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  16. ^ a b "The Mighty Pea Is Everybody's New Favorite Plant-Based Protein". 2019-05-14. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  17. ^ a b "Field Roast and Lightlife will double production capacity with new $310M facility - The Good Food Institute". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  18. ^ a b "Plant-based food retail sales hit $5 billion - The Good Food Institute". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  19. ^ Sternlicht, Alexandra. "Alternative Meat Sales Soar Amid Pandemic". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  20. ^ "How COVID-19 Is Changing the Way We Eat". Food Tank. 2020-12-05. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  21. ^[bare URL PDF]
  22. ^ "Chicago Bears Stadium to Serve Vegan Lightlife Burgers at Home Games". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  23. ^ "Lightlife® Announced as Official Plant-Based Food Partner of Bowlero Corp and the 2020 PBA Tour". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  24. ^ "Maple Leaf Foods weighing options for Shelbyville plant". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  25. ^ "Maple Leaf spends $100M for Indianapolis tempeh plant". Food Dive. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  26. ^ "Lightlife® Strengthens Walmart Partnership by Expanding Tempeh to 3,500 Stores to Meet Growing Demand for Plant-Based Protein". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  27. ^ "Lightlife expands to more Walmart stores". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  28. ^ "Our Story". Lightlife. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  29. ^ Chaker, Anne Marie (2012-01-25). "The Veggie Burger's New Dream: Be More Like Meat". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  30. ^ "Greenleaf Foods launching Lightlife plant-based burger at Harvey's in Canada". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  31. ^ "Dave & Buster's Upgrades to Lightlife® Burger in New Partnership". 2019-10-17. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  32. ^ "Smart Tenders® Plant-Based Chicken". Lightlife. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  33. ^ "KFC Canada Has a Plant-Based Chicken Sandwich — Will the U.S. Ever See It?". Food & Wine. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  34. ^ Mucerino, Caitlin (August 6, 2020). "KFC Adds Plant-Based Chicken Sandwich to the Menu Permanently". The Beet. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  35. ^ Heusner, Michael (October 10, 2019). "Ad of the Week: Lightlife tells it like it is in hilarious new spot". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  36. ^ "Hollywood's Most Fun-Loving Couple Gets Hilariously Uncomfortable With Their Kids in New Ad". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  37. ^ Woodward, Ellie. "Kristen Bell Was Accused Of "Exploiting" A Child Actor In Her New Commercial And She Had The Best Response". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  38. ^ "Clean Break". Lightlife. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  39. ^ "Setting the record straight: An open letter to Lightlife in response to its false claims about..." Medium. 2020-08-25. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  40. ^ Bradley, Diana. "'Someone is getting fired in Lightlife marketing today': Impossible Foods hits back at Clean Break campaign". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  41. ^ "Lilly Singh's 2020 has had a lot of 'crying and cooking' — like all of us". Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  42. ^ "Lightlife teams up with LILLY SINGH for a Clean Break". The Drum. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
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