The Boston-based market research and advisory firm Lux Research predicts that one-third of all meat consumed in 2054 will be derived from plants, with a substantially reduced role for traditional meats and livestock products on our plates and menus. Companies devoted to transforming the meat industry have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and attracted investments from the largest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, as well as notable business magnates from Bill Gates and Richard Branson to Jack Welch and Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed. In recent years, big food has gotten involved, with notable equity investments into alternative plant-based proteins from Tyson Foods, Cargill, Nestlé, Maple Leaf Foods, ADM, and many more. Concerns about issues like environmental sustainability and human health are the drivers behind the growth in this market, but ultimately, investors recognize the opportunity for big returns.
Nation’s Restaurant News, Datassential, and Mintel have all repeatedly highlighted the movement of consumers toward plant-based eating. A recent Nielsen survey found that 22% of Americans plan to eat less meat in the future. In a 2017 Mintel report, 30% of Millennials report that they eat meat alternatives every day, while 50% eat meat alternatives a few times per week. It’s important to note that only 5% of those Millennials were vegetarians. This means that plant-based meat alternatives are largely being eaten by people who also eat animal proteins, rather than as a pure alternative for vegetarians and vegans. This is not a shift by a niche demographic, but rather from a wide swath of the U.S. public.
Meat alternatives can take the form of legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as finished products made from proteins found in soy, wheat, pea, and other grains. Tremendous progress and innovation has been seen in recent years by food manufacturers, which are embracing technology to create alternative products that are great-tasting and affordable. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have disavowed the nomenclature and scientific limits of the “veggie burger,” creating what they are calling “plant-based meat” (meat, made from plants) that mimics the taste, mouth feel, and experience of all-beef patties. Options also include plant-based chicken, fish, cheese, egg, and even sashimi! Hundreds of meat, dairy, seafood, and egg alternative products are available via foodservice distributors like Sysco for the creation of plant-based entrées.
On the retail front, the plant-based food sector (foods that serve as replacements for animal products) tops $3.1 billion in U.S. sales within grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers, an 8.1% YOY increase; this is compared to a decline of .2% for all foods sold in the same channel. So, the consumer demand is real.