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Reviving Decreasing Demand for Plant-Based Meat

Reviving Decreasing Demand for Plant-Based Meat alternative proteins, Diet and health, fish and savoury ingredients, food tech, IFIS Publishing, Innovation and NPD, meat, Proteins, Science, Start-ups and disruptors, Sustainability Food and Beverage Business

The meat alternatives market has experienced a significant increase in investment in recent years, with the alternative protein sector securing US$14.2 billion in private capital over the past decade. Annual investments have nearly doubled each year up until 2022, according to figures from the Good Food Institute.

This influx of investment has led to a boom in innovation, as food scientists strive to develop plant-based products that replicate the taste, texture, and aroma of meat. This can be seen in the surge of scientific literature and patent filings indexed in the Food Science and Technology Abstracts (FSTA) database produced by educational non-profit IFIS Publishing.

The FSTA database is utilized by leading academic institutions, government organizations, and food businesses such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, and General Mills. The database contains 6224 records related to plant-based meat and meat substitutes, with a noticeable increase in published material over the past decade. In 2022 alone, there were 815 research papers and patents indexed, a 277% increase from five years prior.

The rise in research and patent activity has resulted in a plethora of product launches in the meat alternative market. Companies are leveraging food science to differentiate themselves on the crowded shelf, establishing a defensible intellectual property position that provides a unique selling point. Over the past five years, patent filings in the FSTA database have risen by almost 290%.

However, with the rapid growth of the category, the meat alternative market has become saturated, leading to challenges for big-name brands in connecting with consumers. Beyond Meat, a plant-based pioneer known for its bleeding burgers, reported a 31% decline in revenue in the last quarter, attributing it to softer demand in the plant-based meat category, high inflation, rising interest rates, and concerns about a potential recession.

Beyond Meat is not the only brand facing difficulties. Monde Nissin, the owner of Quorn Foods, experienced an 8.8% drop in sales at its meat alternative business last quarter due to continued category challenges. Smaller rivals like Meatless Farm and Plant & Bean have even had to call in administrators.

One factor contributing to the decline in plant-based meat sales is the higher cost compared to traditional meat products. Plant-based meat is, on average, twice as expensive as beef, more than four times as expensive as chicken, and more than three times as expensive as pork per pound. This price disparity, combined with concerns over taste, flavor, and texture, has led to a barrier to purchase for budget-conscious consumers. Mintel’s consumer survey revealed that 34% of respondents cited price as a deterrent.

The sensory challenges of mimicking meat continue to be a focus of research in the plant-based meat sector. Scientists are concentrating on improving the organoleptic properties, including physical properties, texture, flavor, and color. However, there is still work to be done to create a more satisfying eating experience that challenges consumer perceptions of plant-based meats.

A common descriptor associated with plant-based meat research is ‘simulated foods,’ highlighting the level of processing required to transform plant protein into a meat-like product. However, the association with processed foods has become a challenge for the industry, as a fifth of shoppers believe meat substitutes are ‘too processed,’ and 35% view meat as a better source of nutrition.

In conclusion, the meat substitute sector faces the challenge of meeting consumer demands for taste, texture, and affordability while addressing concerns over processing and nutrition. Further research into ingredients and processing technologies is needed to create plant-based products that closely resemble meat. However, it remains to be seen whether the industry can please enough consumers to ensure a thriving future for the category.

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