Over the past two years, the popularity of meat equivalents, or “meatless meat” as some refer to it, has exploded. The meat substitutes industry is now thought to be worth over $20 billion, while 41% of Americans have tried plant-based meat. The reasons behind this shift are manifold—with climate change, a new crop of smart meatless meat brands and even the pandemic contributing.
The nature of such a change naturally raises questions for the wider meat industry and the future popularity and feasibility of “real” meat. We take a look at why the growth of meatless meat is no flash in the pan, and why more and more names in the traditional meat industry are looking to capture a share of the market.
What do we mean when we say meatless meat? While alternatives to meat (think veggie burgers and sausages) have been around for decades, the wave of products currently sweeping the market have some crucial differences. For one, these products are designed to taste, look and smell like the real thing—they are trying to be true meat substitutes, rather than just replacements. They are also being marketed in a far broader way, not just towards vegetarians but meat-eaters too.
There are two main types of meatless meat products that could be the future of how we think about meat:
As the name suggests, these products are manufactured using plant materials manipulated in a way to make them resemble and taste like meat. The vast majority of meatless meat on the market is plant-based, and thanks to advances in recipes and technology the quality of these products is improving fast.
A much newer phenomenon, lab-grown meat is showing significant promise as a meat substitute that is very similar to the real thing. Grown from small amounts of animal tissue, cultured meat represents an alternative to the traditional model of mass rearing and slaughtering of livestock. However, there is still some way to go. Cultured meat is very expensive to produce and so not suitable for mass consumption just yet, but there is real optimism that one day soon lab-grown meat will be a viable option for all meat lovers.
There are a number of key drivers behind the increase in popularity of meatless meat:
Climate change. As climate change is becoming a more active concern in our everyday lives, there is growing awareness of meat production’s impact on the environment. Many consumers see meatless meat as their way of helping to reduce the carbon emissions produced by rearing livestock.
Animal welfare. While the proportion of vegetarians and vegans in the general population is still relatively low, there are significantly more people who disagree with animal slaughter but find it difficult to reduce their meat intake. Meat-free products that taste like the real thing offer these people a viable alternative.
Health. As more becomes known about the potential health implications of eating too much meat, people are looking to cut down. With health experts advising our intake of red meat and processed meat should be limited, meatless alternatives with an authentic taste are making the transition easier for some.
Technology and positioning. Improvements in food technology mean that plant-based meat products simply taste better than they once did. Crucially, this allows manufacturers to market their new products as something meat-eaters will enjoy.
The meatless meat industry is being driven by an array of startups innovating in different niches. Two of the biggest names in the sector, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have seen rapid growth from humble beginnings, and there will surely be similar success stories in the years to come. However, the popularity of meatless meat has alerted the traditional meat industry to both the potential of meat substitute products and their future necessity to the sector’s business model.
With climate change beginning to impact the amount of meat the world is able to produce, and with population growth increasing food demands, meatless meat could become a staple of people’s diets the world over. Many real meat companies are interested in capturing a share of this market early.
The challenge for traditional meat businesses is working out how they can diversify their offerings without running into problems. While plant-based meat substitutes may now taste very similar to meat, their production process is obviously completely different. Any meat producer looking to move into the plant-based sector will have to contend with forging new supply chains, creating new recipes, implementing different quality checks and reorganizing production processes—something businesses specializing in plant-based foods are far more accustomed to.
Technology can play a big role in bridging this gap. The right software solution like a food-specific enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can help meat producers branch out into the meatless sector more easily. Food and beverage ERP has a number of core features perfectly suited to helping traditional meat companies hit the ground running with quality, profitable meatless products:
Recipe management modules to help you fine-tune new recipes, gauge cost-effectiveness and find the right solution faster
Bi-directional ingredient tracking and allergen management that is suited to multiple product lines
Collaborative forecasting and planning to ensure the perfect balance of resources
Supply chain management that supports a range of product variations.
Food and beverage ERP brings all parts of a food business into closer alignment, providing one source of data truth across the organization. This makes it easier—especially for larger companies—to establish their own “start-ups” for different product lines that are managed separately but are still integrated into the core business. The advantage small start-ups have is that they don’t have to adapt their processes from meat production to meatless production, so ERP can help bridge this gap for companies already producing meat.
It also means companies can scale new operations more quickly and with confidence—something many meat businesses will be looking to do for meatless products in the coming years.