Is the future of the food sector meatless? As leaders in the food industry navigate their way through a climate where protein may no longer be sourced from conventional meat, questions are being raised about what is to come.
A recent report conducted by AT Kearney claimed that by 2040, 60% of the meat consumed will either be plant-based or lab-grown. Such a transition can be attributed to increasing environmental awareness surrounding traditional meat farming and growing concern for animal welfare.
Here, FoodBev explores five meatless trends, including seafood substitutes, lab-grown meats and ‘bleeding’ plant-based proteins, that we can expect to see more of throughout 2020 and beyond.
While plant-based meat, milk and cheese alternatives are currently dominating the plant-based industry, other protein alternatives, such as seafood-influenced options, are also driving innovation in this sector.
Recent research by Mintel found that although almost six in ten consumers acknowledge fish to be healthy, just one in ten consider it environmentally-friendly. While clearly outlining the importance of sustainable seafood options, this also emphasises the demand for growth in the plant-based seafood category.
Yamina Tsalamlal, consumer analyst at GlobalData said: “Similarly to how the alternative meat industry grew exponentially, thanks to concerns regarding the overconsumption of meat and the environmental impact, the demand for seafood continues to increase.”
“The opportunity lies in marketing the positive environmental impact alt-seafood has and how consumers can opt for accessible, healthy and ocean-friendly foods,” Tsalamlal explained.
The seafood industry holds similar potential to capitalise on the ever-increasing demand for plant-based, as demonstrated by the meat industry. Some companies are, in fact, already taking advantage of such demand, as September 2019 saw Tyson Foods invest in New Wave Foods, a start-up producer of plant-based seafood alternatives. General Mills and Maple Leaf followed suit in January this year, investing in sustainable plant-based seafood producer, Good Catch.
Although the array of vegan seafood alternatives is still fairly limited, it is undoubtedly a category with immense opportunity.
Although the plant-based market is booming, meat consumption is actually on the rise, according to USDA figures. To meet this increasing demand sustainably, a plethora of startups are using technology to grow meat tissue in laboratory settings.
These companies are disrupting the conventional meat industry, with dramatic advances in technology allowing meat culture from a microscopic animal tissue sample. Cultured meat, otherwise known as ‘clean meat’ or ‘lab-grown meat’ can be defined as a type of meat that is produced through exponential cell growth in bioreactors but does not involve the slaughter of animals.
While lab-grown meats hold significant environmental benefits, they are still considerably more expensive per-pound than their animal equivalents, and are not yet available for mass consumer consumption.
In order to overcome psychological barriers associated with cultured meat, appearance, taste and texture is of particular importance. Aleph Farms, a biotechnology company known for culturing the first lab-grown beef steak, uses medical techniques to grow muscle, fibres, tissues and vessels to closely replicate the consistency of meat. Recently, the Israeli-based startup successfully cultivated cell-grown meat in space, demonstrating the ability to create safe and nutritious meat with minimal and restricted resources.
January of this year saw Dutch cultured meat company, Mosa Meat, enter a strategic partnership with Nutreco and Lowercarbon Capital to advance the commercial release of its lab-grown meat, while Amsterdam-based company Meatable raised $10 million in funding to accelerate the development of its first pork prototype.
Meatable co-founder and CEO, Krijn de Nood, said: “We believe no one should have to give up the meat they love – there is a way to satisfy the world’s appetite for meat without harming people, animals or the planet. Our mission is to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”
Ultimately, cultured meat may become a viable alternative to conventional meat in the future, but it is not quite there yet.
Meaty, but meatless, alternatives
Impossible Foods’ 2016 debut of their infamous ‘bleeding’ Impossible Burger, saw other companies follow suit. They, arguably, were responsible for creating the market for more ‘meaty’ plant-based products.
Moving Mountains, for example, introduced their ‘bleeding burger’ in the UK in 2019, where coconut oil provides a ‘fatty’ consistency, mushroom based proteins account for the meaty texture and beetroot juice causes it to ‘bleed.’ Similarly, Don Lee Farms recently released an organic plant-based burger across 15 different countries, made from soy protein which also ‘bleeds’ organic beetroot juice.
Last year, Impossible Foods successfully launched their next-generation, improved Impossible Burger, made from soy protein rather than wheat protein. They claim the plant-based heme found in their burgers is similar to that consumed in meat. 2020 then saw them introduce plant-based alternatives to pork and sausage, also made from soy, which replicate the texture and taste of their meaty counterparts.
Patrick Brown, Impossible Foods CEO and founder, said: “Impossible Foods cracked meat’s molecular code – starting with ground beef, which is intrinsic to the American market. Now we’re accelerating the expansion of our product portfolio to more of the world’s favourite foods.”
“We won’t stop until we eliminate the need for animals in the food chain and make the global food system sustainable,” he explained. Meat alternatives may not be new, but true innovation now seems to lie in a product that is sustainably made from plants, but has the taste and texture of meat.
Reduction is key
Gone are the days when meat alternatives were exclusive to a niche group of vegans and vegetarians, requiring minimal space on supermarket shelves. Now, increasing numbers of consumers are adopting a flexitarian diet, striving to reduce their consumption of animal-based foods, instead of cutting them out entirely.
This lifestyle choice is evident across Europe, as recent research from Cargill found that four in ten (43%) European shoppers purchase both animal-based products and their plant-based alternatives, compared to just 1% who consume alternatives only.
Environmental awareness surrounding the production of meat is a driver for purchases of alternatives, as research by Mintel found almost half (48%) of British consumers view reduction in their intake of animal products as an effective way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment.
Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food & drink analyst, said: “Whilst the health benefits of eating less meat appear to still be the primary motivation of flexitarian consumers, the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance.”
It is clear that the plant-based space is now targeted at the masses rather than a specific group, with a particular focus on those who eat meat. The real challenge for this industry now lies in meeting consumer expectations for alternatives that closely replicate taste and texture of more conventional protein sources.
Major meat companies jumping on the bandwagon
With corporate giants investing millions into the plant-based category, it is clear this industry is likely to dominate the future of eating. Nestle, Danone and Tyson Foods are moving quickly to release new products, make investments and acquire new brands.
Many of the successful startups are being snapped up or invested into by large-scale corporations playing catch up among a deluge of grassroot brands. Examples include Unilever’s 2018 acquisition of meat alternative brand, The Vegetarian Butcher, Danone’s investment into plant-based food company, The Forager Project, and Kerry’s acquisition of Spanish plant-based protein producer, Pevesa, earlier this year.
Even the meat giants, such as Cargill, Tyson and Hormel are jumping on the plant-based bandwagon. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping the US meat industry, with plant-based sales rising while meat production plants are having to temporarily close their doors or reduce production.
It seems plant-based meats are here to stay and perhaps our current pandemic-influenced climate is accelerating the inevitable transition.
Have you got a plant-based alternative that is innovative and award worthy? Enter our World Plant-Based Awards 2020 now and ensure it gains global recognition.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019