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Trends in Plant-Based Meat – The State of Meat Alternatives in 2021

An entire section in the grocer for meat alternatives

Last year saw several industries excel as a result of the pandemic. Food delivery services, online retail and e-commerce, as well as gaming and videoconferencing all saw huge increases. But you might not have expected the plant-based meat industry to boom as well. Believe it or not, meat alternatives are on the rise, and consumers are increasingly opting to give them a try. Health advantages as well as environmental ones have convinced many that plant-based meat might be a good idea. This has not only led to more available options in the supermarket but more startups in the industry as well.

For these new companies producing various meat alternatives, they anticipate continued growth for the industry. Plant-based milk products have seen a dramatic rise in the past decade that plant-based meat producers want to mirror. Roughly 40 percent of all households have some type of plant-based milk product in their refrigerator. Of course, plant-based meat products are no where near this degree of popularity. But with a 42 percent year-on-year increase in sales for 2020, they’re hopeful. And this hope has been enough to encourage more companies to enter into the market.

“Twenty-twenty was a breakout year for plant-based foods across the (retail) store. The incredible growth we saw in plant-based foods overall, particularly plant-based meat, surpassed our expectations and is a clear sign of where consumer appetites are heading.” – Kyle Gaan, Research Analyst, Good Food Institute

Good for You, and Good for the Planet

The initial appeal of meat alternatives is naturally the benefits to one’s health that these options offer. (Go in-depth on the world of meat alternatives with this Bold Business story.) Though plant-based meat products may use a variety of ingredients, all use non-meat proteins. As a result, they have low or no cholesterol and provide plant-related vitamins and minerals. Wheat, soy, peas, and beans are common sources of replacement protein, which is naturally attractive to vegans and vegetarians alike. But with real meat-like taste, many others are trying these new foods as well for health reasons. This is one major reason why sales in 2020 for meat alternatives was over $1.4 billion.

While dietary health is one selling point, the other major one involves the positive environmental effects of plant-based meat. Animal-based meat production accounts for large quantities of carbon emissions. These products also place additional strains on ever-decreasing animal food resources. In essence, these practices are far from sustainable long-term and have detrimental effects on climate change. For consumers and plant-based meat companies alike, reducing carbon footprints through dietary choices is attractive. This too explains why these items are increasing in popularity.

“The plant-based category has evolved to the point that retailers can’t limit who they consider the plant-based shopper. They should now assume everyone is a potential plant-based buyer and educate them enough to see the possibilities.” – Dawn Vanlandingham, Head of Retail for SPINS

A Beyond Meat burger, which is likely gross
Plant-based meat and meat alternatives continue to carve out a larger market share.

Rising Stars of the Plant-Based Meat Industry

Given that plant-based meat products have been around a few years now, there are some veteran businesses in the industry. These include companies like Beyond Meat, Eat Just, and Impossible Foods. Likewise, Green Monday, which now provides plant-based foods for McDonalds in China, is nine years old. But amidst these veterans, several new startups are emerging that also have promise. And in an industry that is just getting its footing, there’s plenty of room for new ideas.

  • Redefine Meat – This is a unique company in the plant-based meat sector. It has introduced a new platform that uses 3D printing and meat digital modeling to create meat alternatives. The result are foods that mimic muscle meats in look, texture, and taste despite being free of animal proteins.
  • Aleph Farms – This startup was cofounded by Professor Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion Institute of Technology, Israel. Beginning with cells of cows themselves, Aleph Farms has introduced a process of growing real beef steaks without slaughtering animals or harming the climate. The offerings might not be truly meatless, but they will appeal to those who favor animal rights and environmental protections. (Read more about the animal rights movement and business in this Bold story.)
  • Novameat – This interesting company is essentially the first one to create plant-based meat through bioprinting techniques. Their process is able to use a wide range of ingredients to make various meat alternatives. As a result, they are able to imitate the same texture and flavor of many meats and seafoods.
  • Hey Maet – Based on China, Hey Maet uses peas, soy and rice to create plant-based meat products. This startup has recently received notable investments that will allow it to ramp up its R&D and production in the coming year. It plans to have its array of meat alternatives in hundreds of restaurants throughout China within the next 12 months.
  • Haofood – This China-based startup has made a name for itself by being the first to use peanut protein in their meat alternatives. Peanut protein has strong, elastic properties that produce a truly realistic plant-based chicken product. Given the popularity of chicken products in general, Haofood is enjoying a notable increase in their revenues.
  • Vesta Food Lab Vesta Food Labs, also based in China, was founded in 2019 and backed by significant venture capital from the start. In addition to several experienced entrepreneurs, leadership at Vesta also includes chemists, engineering food scientists, and a 3-star chef. In essence, Vesta is taking a scientific laboratory approach to meat alternatives and plant-based meat products.

“I believe, in five years, China will see a raft of domestic plant-based protein companies that could be on par with industry leaders from Europe and North America.” – Xie Zihan, Founder of Vesta Food Labs

Plenty of Room to Grow

While the percentage of consumers embracing meat alternatives is growing, it’s still less than 3% of all retail packaged meats. But analysts expect this to change in the coming decade with revenues anticipated to grow 100-fold by 2030 for plant-based meats. This growth will occur in many areas, but China is likely to see the largest growth changes. Already, nearly 40 percent of China’s population is trying to reduce meat consumption. Also, two-thirds are willing to try meat alternatives. Given the number of businesses creating high-quality plant-based products, it’s safe to assume foods will continue to advance. Without question, that’s what many of these new startups are banking on.


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