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No, Plant-Based Meat Is Not a Fad and Is Here To Stay
Beyond Meat is not the S&P500 of the plant-based meat market
As someone who is passionate about the food technology and alternative protein industry (and works in the industry), I am compelled to speak out against the recent wave of negative coverage of the plant-based meat sector.
While it is important for any industry to be held accountable, it is crucial to approach this topic with a balanced and informed perspective.
Unfortunately, many of the articles currently circulating are biased and misleading, and it is my intention to provide a more nuanced understanding of the plant-based meat industry.
At least I’ll try to.
Beyond Meat (BYND) is not the plant-based meat index
BYND is not the S&P500 of the plant-based meat market.
It is wrong to assume that Beyond Meat represents the entire plant-based meat market because it is only one company among many in the industry.
There are >100 plant-based meat companies out there and yet the majority of these articles mainly focus on Beyond Meat (and sometimes Impossible Foods). This creates a misleading perception of the industry and ignores the contributions and innovations of other companies.
While Beyond Meat had an underwhelming 2022, Impossible Foods reported a 50% increase in retail sales. This demonstrates that strong leadership and continuous product innovation via R&D are essential to succeed in the industry.
As Sonalie Figueiras stated: “Hot take: Beyond Meat is having a bad year because the company could be run better, not because plant-based meat is done and dusted.”
The US is not the world
Another major flaw in the recent hit pieces against the plant-based meat industry is that they are mostly focused on US retail sales data. This data shows flat growth in plant-based meat sales, but it fails to take into account the success of the industry in other regions around the world.
Elsewhere, there are more people starting to embrace plant-based meat. Even though the market for plant-based meat is still in its infancy in Asia, there is already rising demand for these products. If you are interested to learn about the alternative protein industry in APAC, I highly recommend Green Queen Media’s 2022 Alternative Protein Industry Report.
Over in Europe, plant-based meat is thriving and experiencing considerable sales increase. Latin America also seems to be a blooming region for the industry with plant-based meat sales in Latin America having been projected to grow with a CAGR of 11.45% by 2027.
Vikas Garg's data based on 3 million consumer reviews of vegan products collected from abillion (with 65% being meat-eaters), highlights that across 75 countries, the markets with the highest plant-based burger consumption are: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, in addition to the US.
To assume that the plant-based meat industry is solely based on US retail sales is a major oversight. These articles only provide a narrow and incomplete understanding of the global market.
We need plant-based meat to reach climate targets
Most of the hit pieces against plant-based meat lack viable solutions for addressing the environmental costs associated with our current food system.
These costs impact not only the environment but also our health and food security. Plant-based meat can provide a viable solution to these issues, yet these articles often fail to offer any alternatives or solutions.
If we abandon plant-based proteins we will not meet climate targets.
I’m not saying plant-based meat (or alt proteins in general) is the silver bullet that will fix our unsustainable food system.
But, as this report (and many others) presented at the World Economic Forum highlights, they greatly mitigate climate risk by a significant reduction in GHG emissions and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.
If alternative proteins achieve a 20% market share by 2035, it could lead to the conservation of 400–800 million hectares of land, equivalent to 7–15% of the world’s farmland today, which could then be used for reforestation and wildlife restoration and would actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
As Jennifer Stojkovic mentioned: “The Dutch government recently shut down multiple livestock farms upon realizing there is no way for the EU to meet projected climate goals without producing less meat. Animal agriculture is responsible for 57% of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. If we’re going to address climate change, meat alternatives need to be part of the conversation.”
Yes. Organic whole food and plant-based diets are better for you than plant-based meat. But...
it's difficult to convince people to go from eating braised quail to sauteed kale.
If you're a proponent of organic, whole food, plant-based diets and not swayed by the debate of plant-based vs animal meat, and don't understand the push to try to replicate meat with plants - keep it up! More power to you.
Organizations focused on health, the environment, and animal welfare have been encouraging people to eat more plant-based foods and less meat for a long time, but it has been hard to get people to listen.
As Irina Gerry said, "Meat is so deeply ingrained in our culture and eating habits, that such a massive dietary shift has not occurred. In fact, the world keeps eating more meat. We are out of time and urgent action on climate is needed."
So, mimicking meat with plant-based (or fermentation-based and cell-based) alternatives to appeal to meat consumers (flexitarians) makes sense to me.
It’s important to critically analyze the hit pieces and not take them at face value because they often fail to provide a comprehensive and balanced view of the industry.
I am not saying that the plant-based meat industry is flawless. There are many mediocre products that don’t taste great and are more expensive than conventional meat.
During the low-interest rate environment over the past few years, much to the disappointment of Buffet and Munger, investors got greedy. Some VCs poured money into food tech startups without proper due diligence (because of FOMO I guess?), leading to inflated valuations and heightened expectations.
While the industry may not have reached the lofty expectations of most consumers, it has made tremendous progress since Beyond and Impossible burgers v1, launched in 2016. The fundamentals remain strong and the thesis of plant-based meat is still intact: a promising alternative to address the health, environmental and sustainability concerns associated with animal-based protein.
It’s time to give plant-based meat the recognition it deserves and stop dismissing it as just a passing fad.