A meat-free diet was once only associated with the likes of eco-warriors and hippies, but attitudes are rapidly changing. Many traditional food chains and supermarkets, including Burger King, Nestlé, Tescos, and more, are beginning to embrace the blossoming meat-free revolution.
While plant-based meats are growing rapidly, is this trend worth the hype?
Data suggests that consumers are looking to decrease their meat consumption, but experts question if this is a viable outcome.
Euromonitor, a market research firm, expects the market for meat alternatives in both Europe and America to double by 2022. Analysts at Barclays estimate that global sales of alternative meats could grow from 1 per cent of the total market for meat to 10 per cent over the next decade.
The surge in going meat-free has largely been driven by consumers trying to reinforce healthier eating habits and concerns around climate change. Raising animals for meat is an extremely resource-intensive procedure, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that it generates 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse- gas emissions.
That’s roughly the same as emissions from all cars, trucks, aeroplanes and ships combined in the world today.
A major study published last year in Science found producing 50g of beef generated 17.7 Kg of CO2 on average, as compared to only 0.4 kg for producing the same quantity of beans or tofu.
Nearly two-fifths of Americans who described themselves as carnivores told a survey by Mintel in February that they wanted to add more plant-based foods to their diet. Some call themselves “flexitarians”: not vegetarian or vegan, but looking to reduce their meat consumption nonetheless. As a meat-free diet clamours to the spotlight, supermarkets and food chains have responded by decorating their food aisles with meat-free products.
The two key players in this game are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, who together lead the charge for plant-based meat.
In 2016, the Impossible Burger debuted in New York with several restaurants including US fast-food chain, White Castle. In just two years, the Impossible Burger made it into the menus of 5,000 restaurants across all 50 states in the US. By the end of 2019, Burger King hopes to roll out the Impossible Whopper to all of its US franchises after completing its market testing process.
Similarly, Beyond Meat announced in July that it was rolling out their products to 50 international markets, including partnering with Tesco in the UK and Dunkin’ Donuts.
(Source: CNN Business): The Impossible Whopper rollout has been a huge hit at Burger King, fuelling the fast-food giant’s best quarter since 2015
Complaints that plant-based meat lacks the umami taste and texture of real meat, remain a significant question each new entrant to the plant-based meat-market must answer. In response, Impossible Foods offers a soy-based burger with haem, an iron-rich molecule that gives beef its red colour and creates a meat-like flavour and aroma. Beyond Meat’s burger is made from proteins from rice and mung beans, and contains beetroot which gives the meat the ability to “bleed”.
These two companies have achieved high levels of success, but is this success sustainable?
When Beyond Meat made its stock market debut in May, it was considered the most successful IPO in almost 20 years. From day one of its listing, shares soared, giving the company a $12 billion valuation at its peak. This week, Beyond Burger posted its first quarterly profit, raking in $4.1 million in three months.
Despite the good news, Beyond Meat’s shares tanked during Tuesday’s trading in New York spurred by the expiration of the company’s post-initial public offering lockup period. Its shares plunged 24 per cent in a single day from $150.4 TO $82.96.
Beyond Meat IPO (CNBC): On the firm’s first trading day in May 2019, shares of Beyond Meat soared 163%; this was the best performance for an IPO in nearly two decades.
Two big problems are facing the players in the plant-based meat industry: evolving consumer tastes and low barriers to entry.
Experts warn that as more people adopt flexitarian and meat-free diets, they will be less inclined to rely on meat substitutes manufactured by brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. With time, consumers may learn to rely less on prepared alternatives to adopt a meat-free diet.
Analysts are worried the company is overvalued as competitors can easily enter the market, bringing with them similar, if not better, products. Major established meat companies like Tyson and Perdue Farms, have already announced own plant-based meat products.
These launches might be bad for Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, but they are definitely great news for the meatless industry. Greater competition keeps prices down and makes it more likely that plant-based alternatives can scale sufficiently. As long as meatless meat remains a niche industry, it simply can’t affect the climate because it’s simply too small to matter.
“Every aspect of the animal-based food industry is vastly more environmentally disruptive and resource-inefficient than any plant-based system,”- Pat Brown- chief executive of Impossible Foods and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University
Perhaps the future of ‘meat’ lies not in plants, but within a petri dish? Just three weeks ago, astronauts on the International Space Station had successfully grown their own meat from animal cells, 248 miles away from any natural resources using a process called cell-culturing. Cells of a cow were taken to space where they were grown into small-scale muscle tissue using a 3D bioprinter by Israeli food technology company, Aleph Farms.
Unlike plant-based meats, which are already workable, cell-based meat products are still a long way away. The amount of cow muscle produced in the ISS experiment was so small it is unlikely to present genuine competition at the moment.
Despite a promising start, the future of plant-based meat is murky. The environmental benefits of such a product is clear, but burgers bleeding with beetroot may well just be a transitory trend to decrease overall meat consumption. Scepticism towards meat-based alternatives will remain until these brands can demonstrate a capacity to scale effectively to solve the planet’s environmental crisis.
Written by Alexandra Butterworth
Sources and Wider Reading
- The Economist: https://www.economist.com/international/2019/10/12/plant-based-meat-could-create-a-radically-different-food-chain
- The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2019/10/30/beyond-meat-turns-profit-will-britain-get-taste-plant-based/
- Quartz: https://qz.com/1726506/forget-plant-based-meat-lab-grown-meat-is-the-future/
- Crunchbase: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/impossible-foods#section-funding-rounds
- Mintel: https://www.mintel.com/plant_poweredperspectives
- Vox- https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/4/29/18522640/burger-king-impossible-whopper-vegan-meat
- Vox: https://www.vox.com/2019/5/28/18626859/meatless-meat-explained-vegan-impossible-burger
- CNN Business: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/28/investing/restaurant-brands-earnings-burger-king-popeyes/index.html
- Business Insider: https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/top-6-beyond-meat-competitors-made-by-traditional-food-companies-2019-9-1028506115#3-kroger3
- Market Watch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/beyond-meat-is-going-public-5-things-to-know-about-the-plant-based-meat-maker-2018-11-23