The future of plant-based meat
As the world hits a new population milestone, 8 billion people, and climate change continues to cause havoc, the question of food security is of greater concern than ever before. Veganism or flexitarian diet have been highlighted as ways in which we might all adjust our lifestyles to reduce meat and dairy consumption and help adapt to the needs of a changing world.
A vegan diet including plant-based meat can be seen to be more sustainable and is also said to be a much more effective way of feeding people. An average farm animal converts just 10% of the calories it eats into meat and dairy foods, meaning that the world food production would need to rise by 50% by 2030, and 75% by 2050, to meet increasing demand. It has become clear that the world must collectively move towards alternative food sources to feed our growing population and to reduce emissions.
Plant-based meat products
We have seen huge innovations within the plant-based meat sector over the last few years. Never before has the consumer had so many choices and alternatives! Our understanding of plant-based eating has come on considerably in this time whether it be regarding the nutritional benefits of this diet or the ingredients we can use to create tasty alternatives. The plant-based meat market is now estimated to be worth 7.9 billion US dollars in 2022 and is predicted to continue to grow to double by 2027.
At the start of 2022, McDonald’s officially released the McPlant Burger across the UK and Ireland. This adoption of plant-based food from a huge multinational fast-food chain demonstrates the extent to which plant-based meats have penetrated the market.
Plant-based meat manufacturers have cropped up everywhere, as they compete for a share in this growing market. Beyond Meat has net sales of $147 million in the first half of 2022, demonstrating the huge demand for their products. However, inflation and the cost of living crisis have recently impacted the company as, despite this impressive sales figure, they did experience a drop of 1.6% YoY.
The general upwards trend of their growth over the last few years has been remarkable, though. Other key competitors such as Impossible Foods are also experiencing large growth. The products of these companies have expanded to be sold not just through supermarkets but into restaurants.
The future of plant-based meat alternatives is bright as it has been found to generate 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, use 93% less land and 99% less water. In 2022 it is estimated that there are 8 million vegans worldwide and with 14% of Britons alone choosing to live meat-free that’s 7.2 million people, the demand for these products is undoubtable. As consumer awareness continues to swell and the demand for healthier, more sustainable food grows with it, the shift to plant-based diets and alternative food choices suggests the future of the plant-based meat market looks bright.
Protein innovations in the plant-based meat sector
To create the meat-free alternatives there has been considerable research into what ingredients can be used. The challenge has been to not just ensure a similar tasting product but also create something that is nutritionally beneficial.
What are some of the ingredients used in plant-based meat?
- Pea protein
- Coconut oil
- Vital wheat gluten
Beyond Meat burgers for example are predominantly made up of pea protein, coconut oil and rice protein. Whilst Impossible Foods are based on soy protein and coconut oil.
Ingredients like beetroot are often used to colour and create the ‘bleeding effects’ that real meat has. These plant-based ingredients when processed correctly have been praised for the likeliness to real meat. However questions over the nutritional benefits of these products have been raised on occasion.
What does the future of plant-based meat ingredients include ?
CB Insights suggest Algae could be the next big thing. Algae requires less land, less water and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than animal protein. It also grows continuously and can be harvested in greater numbers than other sources of plant-based protein. The World Economic Forum recently calculated that producing one kilogram of beef-sourced essential amino acids requires 148,000 litres of freshwater and 125 square metres of fertile land. In contrast, producing the same amount from the microalgae nannochloropsis oculate, raised in an open pond with brackish water, requires only 20 litres of freshwater and 1.6 square metres of non-fertile land.
However, there are a number of obstacles to overcome before mass market adoption can happen. Of the 20,000 known algae species, only four have been cleared for human consumption in the European Union: freshwater species chlorella and spirulina, and marine species odontella and tetraselmis chuii. Approval for more algae strains is both complicated and expensive. This is said by some in the industry to be slowing down sector growth.
Algae is also very expensive at wholesale compared to soya protein – around $20 a kilo versus $1.50 for soybeans. However, with the increase in consumer demand, production capacity is growing and should therefore have a beneficial effect on costs. As with lab-grown meat, supply would have to grow very quickly and supply would have to be highly scalable to drive down costs and prices. At this point, surging demand could drive prices back up.
And what would be the environmental consequences of over-using algae to an unsustainable level? For example, palm oil is in many ways more sustainable (and was originally intended as a solution rather than a problem) than its alternatives due to how efficiently it grows but it is cultured at the cost of rainforest ecosystems.
Another popular trend in plant-based protein sources is chickpea protein. Chickpeas are rich in amino acids, iron, fibre and contain 6 grams of protein per half cup. For health conscious consumers they provide a nutrient rich alternative to meat. Recently chickpea protein has become a trendy ingredient to use in food. Hippeas, for example, have created chickpea-based crisps as a healthier alternative to the fried potato crisps traditionally enjoyed. Chickpea protein flour can be used in plant-based burgers, chicken nuggets and sausage alternatives.
Lab grown meat
The other alternative to plant-based meat is artificially grown meat, derived from animal stem cells. Cell-based or lab-grown products are made from real animal cells but are grown in a food production plant instead of taken from animals raised in captivity and slaughtered for consumption. Essentially, the process involves collecting stem cells from animal tissue and then getting them to differentiate into fibres. These fibres are then developed and grown into a sufficient mass of muscle tissue that can be harvested and sold as meat.
Lab-grown meat is now available to consumers in Singapore; ‘cultivated chicken bites’ are currently the only approved lab grown meat to be sold. However, there is continuous research occurring in this area and new developments are on the horizon – lab-grown crab meat, for example, is another recent innovation which is anticipated to be on the Singaporean market in 2023.
Lab-grown meat aims to provide a solution to the ethical and environmental concerns associated with the traditional methods of farming animals for meat. However until this is sold on a mass scale the impacts of lab grown meat cannot be fully assessed to back up this claim. This is particularly due to the vast amounts of energy needed to process the meat with it being suggested it could create more long-term greenhouse gas emissions than farming. There remains much debate over the ethics of this meat. Furthermore, the costs associated with mass production of lab-grown meat are large and so the challenge to be able to produce this on mass for an affordable price continues.
Even if lab-grown meat overcomes these issues, this product’s origin cannot be forgotten. Lab-grown or not, this product is meat, it carries some of the same implications of consuming meat as traditionally farmed meat. So, for some this will never be a genuine or viable substitute. For those who want to refrain from meat, plant-based protein alternatives will continue to lead the way in plant-based food innovation.
In the meantime, allmanhall’s team of procurement experts is working with its supplier base to source the best plant-based ranges currently available, to ensure that we meet demand for both innovation and sustainability.