Meat, once considered to be a luxury food-item, has now become an essential part of people’s diet, especially in developed countries. Rising income levels and improved technological processes are part of the reason why the demand for meat is shooting up. The pandemic has both favorably and unfavorably impacted the meat industry. The traditional meat industry has been adversely affected. In countries which are dominantly meat consuming like the UK, France, the USA, etc., meat processing plants have become Covid-19 hotspots. Improper working conditions in the factories, lack of protective equipment, and non-implementation of social distancing norms have led up to this dire situation. This has resulted in major supply chain disruptions leading to panic-buying and stockpiling of processed meat.
However, this has presented lucrative opportunities for the plant-based meat sector to expand. This concept is not absolutely new and has been around for a while but the environment for market penetration and product development has never been so conducive before. Plant-based meat may seem to be a very odd product because meat, as we know it, comes from animals. This type of meat is produced using plant proteins and resembles animal-based meat in taste, texture, and cooking-pattern. Currently, it is being sold in many forms like burger patties, nuggets, and sausages which resemble the taste of beef, lamb, pork, etc.
Meat consumers across the world have started contemplating the safety of animal-based meat since the pandemic which is believed to have originated from a wet animal market in the Hubei province of China. Previous pandemics have also been linked to animal agriculture. Clearly, this close interaction between humans and animals through the consumption of the latter leads to a manifold increase in the chances of zoonotic viruses jumping to the human population.
There have been growing concerns regarding health issues related to the consumption of animal-based meat. Recent studies have shown that red meat can cause cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, and many other problems when consumed in high amounts. Consumption of processed meat carries higher chances of contracting these diseases as compared to unprocessed meat. Let’s not forget about the environmental issues created by the meat industry. It has a very large carbon footprint. Every year, large tracts of forest areas are cleared to grow animal feed. Lower forest cover leads to global warming. Water usage is also very high. 2400 gallons of water is used up to produce 1 pound of beef. All these factors have led to a push towards vegetarianism and veganism in many countries. There is a growing population of reducetarians– people who are willing to reduce their consumption of animal products because of health and environmental concerns. Plant-based meat is here to cater to all their demands.
California based Impossible Foods and Los Angeles based Beyond Meat were the 2 startups which started working on the concept of meatless meat. Heard of the Impossible Burger? Well, it was introduced by Impossible foods as a substitute for meat burgers. Seeing the growing popularity of their products other brands like Tyson, Smithfield and Nestle have also come up with substitutes. Fast foods chains are partnering with such brands to put up these products in their menus. They are scaling up production and are making their products available through all possible platforms. For instance, in 2019 Burger King started using Impossible Foods’s plant-based Beef patty and rolled out The Impossible Whopper, which became widely accepted by consumers.
These companies have started expanding beyond the US and have already placed their foot in China. China consumed approximately 50% of the world’s pork during 2019. Due to a growing appetite for meat among the Chinese the government announced in 2016 that it will reduce meat consumption in the country by 50%. Even though the market for such products is still in its infancy stage in China, numerous American and Chinese companies have started filling supermarket shelves with meat alternatives. Among the vegetarian and vegan population, which is majorly Buddhist, the products have become popular as they give them the experience of having meat without actually having it.
The global market is expected to hit USD 3.6 billion in value during 2020 and is forecasted to increase by 17% to USD 4.4 billion during 2021. Statistics from various countries show that the industry is expanding at a rapid rate and has tremendous future prospects. In the US, the retail sales of plant-based food increased by 11.4% year on year basis leading up to July 2019 compared to a 2.2% rise in overall retail sales during the same period. In Europe, the sector has witnessed an increase of 451% since 2013.
The environment is very favorable for the survival and growth of companies in this industry. Competition is becoming fierce. The ability of a firm to move ahead of its competitors largely depends on how well it is able to mimic the taste of actual meat. Innovative strategies need to be brought to the table to encourage consumers to try these meat alternatives and make them realize that they can actually taste like real meat.
This industry definitely has a bright future ahead. People are gradually realizing the importance of sustainable consumption. Education on this matter will create a common ground for understanding between the governments, citizens and the environmentalists which will help them to work collectively towards reducing animal agriculture for the greater good of the planet.