Would you eat fake meat? Getty Images/Jason Mempin

Is alternative meat a wild card in consumers’ protein choices?

While the timeline is uncertain, expect alternative meats to one day join pork and poultry as beef’s competitor.

Would you eat barbecue that wasn’t really barbecue? Depending on consumer acceptance, beef may have more competition than pork and poultry on the near horizon.

“The future success of alternative meat lies squarely with rising global demand for protein rather than a battle for the existing market share of animal protein food products,” says Trevor Amen, an economist with CoBank. “The road to commercial viability and consumer acceptance of cultured meat is long and this type of product is unlikely to have a marked effect on traditional animal protein demand through at least the next decade.”

However, a new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division (Lab-grown Cultured Meat…) suggests protein products derived from plant sources, insects and cultured meats will be among the top food trends to watch.

READ: Clean meat? It's not that simple

A couple of the nation’s largest beef packers are already vested in alternative protein companies.

Tyson Ventures—established in 2016 with a $150 million commitment from Tyson Foods—bought a 5% stake in the plant-based protein business, Beyond Meat (BM).

Its cornerstone Beyond Burger is offered by more than 5,000 supermarkets; it’s on the menu of more than 2,000 restaurants. Tyson added to its BM stake in December.

"Global demand for all protein remains high and we're passionate about meeting that demand sustainably," explained Justin Whitmore, Tyson Foods executive vice president corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer. "Our investment in Beyond Meat provides another fantastic alternative for consumers as we strive to sustainably feed the world."

Global protein demand is expected to grow with increasing population and economic wherewithal. The CoBank report projects global gross domestic product increasing by $38 trillion from 2016 to 2030, generating a 46% increase in meat and poultry consumption.

Cargill, Inc. invested in Memphis Meats (MM), a company that grows meat from animal cells. It’s termed cultured meat or clean meat, meaning that the product is in fact meat, but produced without the need to breed, feed or harvest livestock. MM introduced the world’s first clean meatball in 2016. Last year, it introduced clean chicken and duck.

“We are committed to growing our traditional protein business and investing in innovative new proteins to ultimately provide a complete basket of goods to our customers,” said Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures, Cargill Protein. “Our investment in Memphis Meats is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market. Memphis Meats has the potential to provide our customers and consumers with expanded protein choices and is aligned with our mission to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.”

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“The timeline for commercial viability of cultured meat products remains the greatest unknown,” says Amen. “The consensus projection points to an initial market introduction in the next three to five years, most likely in restaurants and specialty stores and offered at a premium price to traditional meat offerings.” He adds that supermarket adoption will likely take another two to three years as the technology becomes more affordable and acceptable to consumers.

Alternative dairy milk products might provide some context. Think here of such alternatives as soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk. Also keep in mind that some of the alternatives provide no protein.

Recent research from Mintel indicates non-dairy milk sales grew 61% since 2012 to an estimated $2.11 billion in 2017. Dairy milk sales declined 15% during the same period.

Conversely, according to the CoBank report, “Euromonitor International projects sales of meat substitutes to rise steadily to $863 million in 2021, representing roughly 17% growth compared to 2017 estimates. These figures are dwarfed in comparison to the current retail market size of $49 billion in sales for the entire meat and poultry category in the U.S.”

 

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