ROCHESTER — On the grocery store shelves of popular meat substitute brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats are a less recognizable line of vegetarian nuggets, “sausage” patties and links called Jack & Annie’s.
Although this line sold at Fresh Thyme isn’t made in Minnesota, the meat substitute brand was founded in 2009 by Annie Ryu, a Mayo High School graduate.
While still in school, Ryu was an avid tennis player and violinist before attending Harvard University, where she planned to study medicine.
Now their jackfruit-based products fill the refrigerators of 3,000 national grocery stores, one of which is Rochester’s Fresh Thyme.
Her Mayo High School tennis coach, Jeff Demaray, recalled some of Ryu’s accomplishments from her tennis career.
According to Demaray, Ryu was a “great player” for Mayo, who won a state doubles championship and played three singles in her final season.
“She was extremely smart on the tennis court,” Demaray said. “It was a lot of fun coaching her.”
When Ryu’s interest in health and medicine took her to India in 2011, where she planned to implement a maternal and child health program, she finally found inspiration for an ethical and sustainable meat alternative.
When Ryu saw her first jackfruit at a street market, she saw the potential of this nutrient-dense fruit, and from there founded Boulder, Colorado-based The Jackfruit Company and a newer line, Jack & Annie’s.
According to Fresh Thyme Assistant Store Director Schuyler Spring, products in the Jack & Annie’s line have performed “pretty well” compared to similar products.
Spring said Fresh Thyme generally sells a lot of jackfruit, whether whole, frozen, canned, or in products like Jack & Annie’s meat substitutes.
“It’s really gotten a lot more popular,” Spring said.
According to Spring, jackfruit has become increasingly popular with vegan shoppers or people who simply want to eat healthier.
What separates Ryu’s products from competitors like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Morning Star is their nutritional value. The product is made from the fruit itself, not processed soy products.
This outstanding quality from Jack & Annie’s led to Ryu being voted Mindful CEO of the Year 2022 from among 1,650 nominees, which is a recognition for leaders of transparent, fair, natural, healthy and sustainable companies.
Forbes reported that while vegetarian alternatives to meat are necessary to fight climate change, many brands are nutritionally lacking; it recognized Ryu’s Jack & Annie’s as a company that uses minimal processing and is “nutritionally superior” to animal protein.
The increasing use of jackfruit as a vegan meat substitute has fueled global demand and fueled market growth. According to the Jackfruit market forecast, the market has a projected CAGR of 3.3% between 2021 and 2026.
One advantage for Jack & Annie’s, according to Spring, is that the products are cheaper at retail than well-known brands like Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods.
The four Jack & Annie’s products sold at Fresh Thyme are all $5.99, while Impossible Foods prices similar products in similar sizes at $8.99.
While Spring and other fresh thyme shoppers may not initially know that the jackfruit-based products were developed by a Rochester native, Ryu’s use of jackfruit instead of the more common soy- or pea-based meat alternatives sets Jack & Annie’s apart from its competitors national popularity.