The global plant-based meat market is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Companies are developing products so similar to animal products that they are difficult or impossible to tell apart from the real thing, helping manufacturers extend their reach to consumers who don’t want to give up the taste or texture of meat. As more varieties of imitation meat are developed and COVID-19 impacts both meat supply chains and consumer behaviour, plant-based meat companies will likely see more growth opportunities over the coming years.
An industry on the rise
As people around the world become more open to meat alternatives, the industry is expected to grow significantly. Technavio predicts an increase of over $3 billion between 2020 and 2024, with a CAGR of more than 17%. North America currently leads the market in terms of growth, but Asia will also be a key region in the coming years. Increasing health-consciousness and focus on the environment will help drive the industry. Here are some of the latest developments and opportunities impacting the global plant-based meat market.
Impossible Foods goes wholesale
Impossible Foods is partnering with San Francisco food wholesaler Cheetah to sell its Impossible Burger patties in bulk. COVID-19 has created both challenges and opportunities for the food vendor and many others like it: demand from restaurants and other food service companies has fallen dramatically during the pandemic, leaving suppliers with substantial amounts of unsold stock. The US FDA has relaxed its food labeling guidelines to allow manufacturers to sell products directly to retailers that had originally been intended for the food service industry. This means that companies like Impossible Foods can get their products into the hands of consumers despite restaurant closures and stay-at-home orders.
With the population cooking food at home far more often than usual and certain staples becoming harder to find, this is an opportunity for plant-based meats such as the Impossible Burger to reach consumers who otherwise might not have tried these products, potentially increasing manufacturers’ customer bases. Some consumers who try products like plant-based meat patties for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic will likely continue to seek them out once circumstances return to normal.
North American alternative meat companies expand into China
Western plant-based meat companies have begun venturing into the Chinese market, partnering with cafes and restaurants to test the waters and gauge interest in their products. Beyond Meat and Omnipork have both brought their products to Starbucks, while Cargill is testing a limited run of plant-based fried chicken with KFC.
China is by no means new to vegetarian cuisine – the country has been eating vegetable-based meat substitutes for centuries. However, plant-based meats made to closely resemble the real thing are still relatively untested in the region. Companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are hoping to win over not only the country’s millions of vegetarians, but its meat eaters as well.
These western brands aren’t the first to enter the Chinese market. In recent years the country has seen many plant-based meat companies spring up, such as Zhenmeat and Starfield. While these companies tend to have less advanced food technology than their competitors, they have the advantage of knowing the market and offering products tailored to Chinese dishes. The selling point for brands such as Beyond Meat is their ability to create imitations that are difficult to differentiate from real meat, which could help it win over the country’s meat-eating population. China is the world’s largest consumer of meat, making it an attractive market for plant-based meat companies that produce realistic substitutes.
This may be a good time to break into the Chinese plant-based meat market. The government has set a goal to halve meat consumption by 2030 in order to reduce both emissions and obesity levels. Many people in the country are seeking to reduce the amount of meat they consume, particularly the younger generations. Plant-based meats are increasingly being seen as a healthy alternative to traditional meats.
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Realistic pork imitation launches in Singapore
Another plant-based meat company with its eyes on China is Phuture Foods, a Southeast Asian startup that has created a vegan imitation pork. While North American meat alternative companies tend to focus on beef, pork is the most popular meat in Asia and one of the most widely consumed globally. Phuture Foods recently soft launched its Phuture Mince 3.0 product in Singapore despite the coronavirus pandemic, where it can be ordered through food delivery apps from select restaurants. With a realistic, halal, Buddhist-friendly imitation of the region’s most popular meat, Phuture Foods has the potential to hold its own against the existing products in the Chinese market, which it plants to enter if its Singapore rollout is a success.
Closing meatpacking plants create opportunities for meat substitutes
The impact of COVID-19 on the meat industry is creating opportunities for plant-based meat substitutes. Many meatpacking plants have been forced to close in the US and around the world as workers become infected. While there is currently enough meat in storage to keep it on most grocery store shelves, it could become a problem down the line.
With fewer meat processing plants in operation, farmers are being forced to keep and feed livestock longer than planned, costing them more money. At the same time, lower demand from customers such as restaurants means it’s harder to sell stock. This could cause farmers to downsize their livestock investments, decreasing supply and causing the price of meat to rise. This would motivate more consumers to adopt meat-based alternatives, especially those who are hurting financially due to income losses during the pandemic.
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While it would take some time for these factors to impact the meat and meat alternatives markets, they are worth planning for. The financial crisis of 2008 caused Americans to reduce their meat consumption in favor of more affordable foods, and the average consumption fell from 200 pounds of meat per person per year to 185 pounds. It took until 2018 for consumption to return to normal levels, and beef, being a more expensive meat, didn’t fully recover, losing ground to cheaper alternatives such as chicken. Given the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus pandemic, plant-based meat companies and other industry players should prepare for a similar situation in the coming years.