With 70% of the global population reducing their meat intake, according to Acumen Research, many companies have begun shifting their focus towards plant-based meat products to accommodate a broader range of lifestyle choices. The growing demand for meat alternatives may derive from consumers’ concerns with animal welfare, the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, and health benefits associated with a plant-based diet. With many large meat companies, such as Tyson and Cargill, introducing their own lines of plant-based products, while investing in meat alternative brands, the so-called meatless revolution shows no signs of slowing down.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Meat Consumption
Over the past few months, the severe impact of Coronavirus on the meat industry has further decreased consumers’ meat intake, as price hikes and factory sanitation concerns have led more shoppers to consider meat alternatives. According to a study conducted by PBFA on Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery retailer, plant-based meat sales have increased by a staggering 75% between March and June of 2020. With the pandemic putting health at the forefront of consumer decision making, increased demand for clean labels and growing concerns over animal-borne illnesses compel shoppers to switch from animal-based to plant-based foods. In addition to health concerns, the significant increase in meat prices amidst shortages and the economic impacts of Coronavirus on consumers has prompted shoppers to seek alternatives. As sectors of the food industry take steps towards recovery, plant-based meat sales show no sign of slowing down, as MarketsandMarkets estimates U.S. plant-based meat sales will reach $4.2 billion by 2021, growing 17% in just over one year.
Plant-Based Fast Food
In addition to meat alternatives found in grocery stores, many plant-based meat companies are teaming up with large fast food chains to offer menu options for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. With large chains such as Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and White Castle debuting meatless versions of classic menu items, plant-based foods have made their way into the mainstream to keep up with growing demand. According to Axios, plant-based meats have a 3.5% market in U.S. fast food chains that will continue to grow as more restaurants introduce meat alternatives. Though many consumers see plant-based fast food items as healthier options, the nutritional value of these menu items does not change, as both animal and plant-based meat are processed foods. Despite this misconception, meatless fast food continues to expand, making it easier than ever for consumers to reduce their meat consumption.
Challenges with Plant-Based Meat
Though the popularity of plant-based meats has drastically increased over the past few years, there are a number of hurdles to overcome in order to maintain growth. For one, the high price of plant-based foods may deter consumers from purchasing alternatives over animal-based products. According to Nielsen, plant-based meats cost almost 50% more per gram than beef, as consumers pay an average of $12/lb. for alternative products. This high cost results from a less established supply chain of ingredients compared to animal-based products and may decrease over time as more businesses enter the market. Another issue may derive from keeping up with demand. Due to the rapid growth of this industry, companies are forced to scale quickly to meet consumer needs, putting pressure on companies both large and small. Despite these challenges, the plant-based meat industry continues to prosper, providing consumers with a safer and healthier alternative to meat.
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