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Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Are Here to Stay

Mid-year statistics aside, the sector is growing faster than overall food sales.

Joyce Fassl

December 7, 2023

4 Min Read
Plant-based products still growing
Chickpea meatballs are just one of several types of plant-based products on the market today.Image courtesy of Al Gonzalez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

When it comes to producing meatless but protein-packed meals, there are more than a few ways to be successful. Whether consumers choose plant-based alternatives, plant-based meat and poultry alternatives, plant-based dairy-free alternatives, or non-plant-based alternatives, the food industry is certainly not abandoning the alternative meat/protein market sector.

 

Despite mid-year media reports that the sector is losing ground, the Good Food Institute (GFI) reports that the plant-based meat and seafood retail industry generated $6.1 billion in 2021 global sales, growing 8% by dollars and 5% by weight. Amid challenging market conditions, this rapidly evolving industry made major strides across the areas of science, sustainability, and public and private sector support.

Plant-based products grew to an $8 billion industry in 2022, and while the double-digit growth years appear to be over, according to Medical Xpress, a media outlet that covers medical research advances and health news, plant-based food sales continue to increase faster than food sales overall. The report says that plant-based has not peaked and is still evolving as consumers demand more than alternatives to meat and dairy. 

As consumer engagement with, and interest in, plant-based protein increases, retailers and manufacturers are introducing new products, developing strategic partnerships, and building new production facilities, says GFI.

Whole Foods announced that its top food trend of 2024 is putting the “plant” back in plant-based foods and now offers products like Meati Carne Asada Steaks, Actual Veggies Green Burger, and Atlantic Sea Farms Basil Pesto Veggie Burger. The retailer is experiencing growth in vegan products with shortened ingredient lists, such as veggie burgers and other meat-based alternatives made of mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh, and legumes instead of lab-grown proteins and chemicals.

With the growth of flexitarian and vegan diets, a recent Forbes article states that meat-free alternatives have flooded the market. However, Forbes reports that consumers are not necessarily interested in animal alternatives made from a lengthy list of products they do not understand. In fact, they would rather eat veggie burgers and other products made of vegetables and ingredients they can understand.

“Time-saving ready meals are serving up increasing numbers of popular dishes in alternative vegan or vegetarian versions, such as lentil lasagna,” says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova. “There is a clear message coming through to brands and retailers that, while some consumers don’t eat meat at all, many more are happy to eat less of it.”

Innova’s research measured 8% annual global growth in ready meals and sides making plant-based or vegan claims between 2020 and 2023.

According to a recent Medium article entitled “Food Trends: What We’ll Be Eating in 2030,” the plant-based revolution will have swept across the globe by 2030 reshaping diets and the food industry. “With increasing concerns about health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, plant-based foods will become the new norm. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods will be household names, but they will have competition from startups offering a diverse range of plant-based options.”

Several food industry research reports agree that lab-grown meat and cultivated proteins will also start to become mainstream because they can reduce the environmental impact of traditional livestock farming. The Medium article also reports that the taste and texture of these plant-based and lab-grown foods will continue to improve, making them indistinguishable from their animal-derived counterparts.

The rise of cultivated meat

According to GFI, cultivated meat, also known as cultured meat, is genuine animal meat (including seafood and organ meats) produced by cultivating animal cells directly. The production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types that can be arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat.

A report from KTCHNrebel entitled “Food Trend 2024: To know today what we will eat tomorrow,”  states plant-based food continues to be one of the most important food trends in 2024. It is driven by growing climate and environmental consciousness, which is especially important to younger consumers.

The trend is also strengthened by the rejection of mass meat production, which many no longer consider ethically acceptable. However, the concept that future alternative meat consumption in industrialized countries will grow by at least 75 percent and help to save the planet is nice, it may not be realistic. Therefore, the food industry must develop novel solutions in plant-based meat and fish substitutes, the report concludes.

A related trend to watch — vegans and vegetarians might be open to consuming cultivated meat because its production does not involve slaughtering animals.

About the Author(s)

Joyce Fassl

Freelance writer

Joyce Fassl is a well-known and respected journalist in the food and beverage manufacturing industry. Now semi-retired and working on freelance projects,  she was previously editor in chief of ProFood World and Food Engineering magazines.

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