Plant-based meats are poised for growth as innovation and investment in space speed ahead

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

While household penetration of plant-based alternatives to meat in the US is only a small a fraction, innovation and sales in the category are poised for growth and could mirror the trajectory of plant-based milks, predicts a senior scientist with the Good Food Institute.

“Often there is a comparison made between plant-based dairy looking at where that is in market penetration at 9% or 10%, whereas plant-based meat is only a quarter of 1% penetration in terms of the total meat industry in the US,”​ and even less globally at a tenth of 1%, Liz Specht told FoodNavigator-USA at Food Vision USA in Chicago in November.

But, she believes that gap will soon close and sales of plant-based meat will climb quickly in the coming years.

“We are really at the beginning of that S-curve, but we are seeing the same trends we saw 10 years ago in plant-based dairy”​ influencing plant-based meat development and sales, she said.

New manufacturer mindset will drive growth

For example, she noted, plant-based meat alternatives are no longer focused on niche vegetarians and vegans, but rather are “now being developed with omnivores in mind, with flexitarians in mind, who are choosing to eat a certain fraction of their meals with this plant-based meat alternative as the center of the plate.”

As such, Specht says, “a lot of the innovation that we have seen in products is specifically trying to replicate the full consumer experience of conventional meat products. So, really catering to that taste, that mouth feel, the food sensory profile.”

Products like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger are paving the way in terms of “recapitulating the experience of meat,”​ but in a way that makes consumers feel healthier, she said.

Another indicator that consumer adoption of plant-based meat alternatives is occurring is meat manufacturers are starting to invest in or make plant-based options to complement their traditional animal protein portfolios, Specht said.

“There is one company in Germany that has been a meat company since the 1800s and just three years ago came out with a line of vegan and vegetarian products, and that now comprises 20% of their total sales,”​ Specht said, adding, “They anticipate this will be 40% of their total sales in just three more years from now.”

Protein sources, processing techniques will diversify

As the plant-based meat industry develops, Specht says there will be additional opportunities to develop new protein sources and processing techniques.

“We are only using a small fraction of the plant-based proteins that are available to us. Almost all of these meat analogues are using soy protein, wheat protein, just recently pea protein. There is a whole landscape of other plant proteins form things like beans and legumes and even more diverse sources – things like micro algae and new fungal strains,”​ she said.

As for processing, Specht sees potential to move away from classic extrusion to find options that are less energy intensive and can accommodate a broader range of protein sources.

As these innovations slide into place, Specht predicts in the next three to five years US culture will be “in the midst of this s-curve.”

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