Future of plant-based foods: Whole-cut meats will lead ‘next resurgence of consumers’

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - MEDITERRANEAN
Image Credit: Getty Images - MEDITERRANEAN

Related tags plant-based meat plant-based protein JUST Egg

The meat and dairy alternative markets are bifurcating as some consumers seek premium products, including whole cuts, while others make their own plant-based dishes to save money, Miri Eliyahu, senior research analyst at Euromonitor, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“If we think about what is going to be the next stage [of plant-based], we are going to see a polarization of people going more ingredients-based and making it at home. And on the other side, we will see the premium products really benefitting from the occasional buyer [who] wants to indulge in it after making the veggie patty at home," Eliyahu said.

Can whole-cut plant-based meats circumvent processing concerns? 

When it comes to the beleaguered plant-based meat category, the market is still “waiting to see who can imitate a whole-cut” in retail at scale, Eliyahu said. The US meat and seafood substitutes market was worth an estimated $1.821bn in 2023 and is expected to be worth $1.9bn by 2028, growing at a 1.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2023 and 2028, according to Euromonitor data. 

“Right now, Chunk has done [whole-cut] very successfully. However, they only go to restaurants. So, in retail, we are still waiting. We are still waiting to see that happen, and whoever will be able to imitate a whole cut of anything in retail up to scale — that is where I think the next resurgence of consumers will be,” she explained.

[Editor’s note:  Interested in learning more about the future of alternative proteins? Then, join FoodNavigator-USA and ReThink at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins in Chicago, June 17-18. Miri Eliyahu will be sharing her insight on the alternative protein market with a panel of experts during the "Moving beyond taste, texture mimicry: Why alt protein needs to innovate outside the analogues" breakout session. To learn more about the event, visit the website here​, and click here to register.]

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Despite some consumer concerns about the level of processing in alternative meats, brands can deliver a "natural" experience by ensuring that the product replicates the taste and texture of traditional whole-cut meats, Eliyahu noted. 

“The moment you are able to imitate a whole cut regardless of the processing, it will have a natural halo just because of the texture of it and the shape of it. So, even if it was made in a lab — even in several stages of processing — consumers in their minds are going to denote this as something natural. And I think that is why a lot of companies are aiming for that whole-cut feel because the more … you feel it as such, you are not going to associate it with a highly processed food," she explained.

Plant-based DIY: Consumers want benefits, not costs

The plant-based beverage category is seeing a “resurgence of soy milk this year” as consumers start to incorporate it in more recipes, Eliyahu explained. 

The US plant-based dairy market — which includes milks, yogurts and cheeses — was worth approximately $4.4bn in 2023 and is expected to grow to $10bn in 2028, growing by a 17.4% CAGR, according to Euromonitor data.

Similarly, plant-based products, like Just Egg, that can be incorporated easily into recipes are finding market success, she added. Recently, Just Egg expanded its portfolio product with breakfast burritos, after bringing back its condiment line​. 

“One of the reasons that Just Egg is doing so well is because it is an ingredient for baking as well, and so that is what we are going to see in the next generation,” Eliyahu said.

Also, consumers are becoming thriftier with their grocery budgets and making meals with canned beans and lentils to gain the health benefits of plant-based proteins without spending as much, she explained.  

“If you look at processed and canned vegetables — and that Euromonitor also includes beans and lentils — those are growing. And they are growing because people .... [are replacing] meat with the ingredients that we use for the mock meat. So, instead of going and buying the burgers ... they are using the beans to create a burger at home," Eliyahu said.

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