ConAgra, the owner of Slim Jim, Marie Callender's frozen meals and Birds Eye, is the latest big food company to disappoint investors with lackluster results. But the company is hoping to turn things around by investing more in plant-based proteins.

Shares of ConAgra plunged nearly 12% Thursday -- one day after rival General Mills sank because of weak demand in its snack business.

Yet ConAgra, which also owns the Gardein brand of seven grain nuggets, meatless meatballs and fishless filets, is hoping to capitalize on the booming demand for plant-based foods that has made Beyond Meat a Wall Street darling and turned Impossible Foods into a household name.

During a conference call with analysts Thursday, ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly said the company believes the overall plant-based protein market in the United States could generate $30 billion in sales each year.

Connolly added that most plant-based products, particularly burgers, are targeted at beef eaters. But he thinks many other so-called flexatarians will be willing to try other protein-based substitutes -- especially for chicken.

"Gardein is extremely well positioned to capitalize on the rapid growth of plant-based meat alternatives. The brand already provides a diversified portfolio of products particularly in the underappreciated alternative to chicken segment," Connolly said.

He added that plant-based meat substitutes could also become a part of ConAgra's Healthy Choice line of prepared meals.

But based on how poorly the traditional food companies have performed in this hyper-competitive grocery store market, it may take a lot more than plant-based meat to turn ConAgra's fortunes around.

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