Since 2009, Beyond Meat Inc. Founder Ethan Brown has tirelessly tried to change the world, saying that developed countries that the humanity’s had a greenhouse problem from meat.
Other than that, to address red meat consumption in first-world nations, Brown added that his products could also help solve heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and animal welfare.
So, through his alt-meat, Brown’s mission has been to create a bigger, positive impact by making venture capitalists invest in fake meat than in solar energy.
We know how his efforts went: many people who had been eating bean patties or had tried to improve animal welfare flocked to Beyond’s products as they looked and tasted like the real thing. Meanwhile, regular meat eaters could give up their red meat without giving up anything at all.
Many investors came to back Beyond’s efforts, most notably Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Gates. Gates backed not only Beyond but also its rival Impossible Foods Inc.
Impossible’s selling point (developing its own type of heme to improve texture) successfully managed to raise $183 million before the company had sold a single patty. Former CEO Pat Brown predicted that his company would shake the beef industry, saying that he would target “the pork industry and the chicken industry and say, ‘You’re next!’ and they’ll go bankrupt even faster.”
Hitting a wall
For a while, the two leading companies in alt-meat were successful. Unfortunately, they faced challenges which had left a steady decline in their sales. Big restaurant partners such as KFC, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut have decided not to put their products permanently on their US menus.
Consumer excitement has become stagnant or is declining.
At this point, people who have been keeping alt-meat companies running are mostly vegans, vegetarians, or veggie burger enthusiasts. Actual meat eaters still buy their products, but only occasionally.
Both companies declined to comment when asked about this decline in sales. However, Ethan Brown commented once to point his finger at the meat industry. “They are doing their very best today to suggest that our process is somehow unhealthy or that our products are full of chemicals. These things are not true,” he said.
I’m not going to deny that some figures in the industry may try or have tried to spread propaganda to deter consumers from buying alt-meat.
However, in most cases, people change their diet back to the real thing after experiencing body changes or taking a closer look at alt-meat’s ingredient list.
People who used to be excited about fake meat and didn’t mind the different taste or texture questioned if the sodium-high and overprocessed alternatives were healthier.
More importantly, plant meat costs more than the real one. Won’t it be easier, cheaper, and healthier to just buy and eat chicken, eggs, beans, and lentils?
Not above processed meat
Most meatless meat products boast high levels of protein without gluten or soy. Therefore, nations which are at risk of cancer or other chronic diseases due to red and processed meat consumption were thrilled at first.
However, skepticism about the health benefits and features grew over the years. These meat alternatives received criticism from known figures for their ‘hyperprocessing.’
One consumer was moved to stock up meat alternatives because of their health and environmental impact claims. Shortly, she noticed that she and her family were eating at a much faster pace, and that the fake hot dogs left her feeling uncomfortable.
She mentioned the diet changes to her doctor along with the lack of health results. The doctor gave her a simple explanation. She was eating processed foods.
So, the consumer looked at the packaging and noticed the high salt content. Since then, she’s stopped replacing real meat, only buying plant-based meat products for some occasions.
Her story is just one experience of many which have driven the sales decline of alt-meat companies.
Other than that, there’s also an issue with plant-based fats which are meant to give the patties a meaty juiciness.
Despite the fats’ features, they emit an off-putting smell when cooked, so people had to clear the air after cooking the products. Some people online have also compared the odor of raw plant meat to that of cat food.
Becoming a food trend that’s no longer as popular
We still don’t know if faux meat companies are making a significant impact on the environment—they’re relatively new and there’s still not enough data to predict and compare.
However, in terms of health, these meat alternatives are closer to being another food trend in which novelty is wearing thin. Now, they look more like a niche category than a meaningful displacement of a long-established industry.
Alternative meat companies have long tried to make people switch from real meat to their products, only to find out that their best customers are 5% of the population who don’t eat meat in the first place.
Restaurants now simply have plant-based patties to make sure they have something to offer vegetarians that’s not a salad or cauliflower. Even so, some vegetarians would prefer a burger made of actual vegetables instead of faux meat.
As mentioned, this fading trend is reflected by the decreasing partnerships between these companies to fast-food giants.
For instance, Beyond’s products have dissolved from Dunkin’ and Taco Bell’s menu. The company trialed its burger at about 600 US locations with McDonald’s but unfortunately didn’t perform well.
On the other hand, Impossible has come to a realization that shaking animal agriculture is not easy. Burger King has added alt-meat products, but after trying to sell faux chicken nuggets and sausage patties, it didn’t put any in its regular lineup.
Bareburger, an Impossible early adopter, stated that the burger’s sales went from 6% in 2021 to 4% in 2022. The CEO said that the fanfare had subsided, adding that the price of the burger doesn’t help; they’re higher than that of the beef, elk, and black bean.
What’ll happen in the future?
Different from the previous CEO, Impossible’s Peter McGuinness has planned to operate like a food company instead of trying to end the meat industry. According to McGuinness, pricing has come down and might match actual beef.
The CEO also plans to continue improving the company’s products, including the nutritional profile. “The cake for us is to make a delicious product. The icing—it’s better for you, better for the planet,” McGuinness said.
If Impossible managed to be successful in their plans, other faux meat companies might follow and eventually gave us alternative meat products that are not harmful to our body, not expensive, and better for the environment and animal welfare.
Let’s also not forget about lab-grown, cellular meat. So far, we’ve heard claims of these types of meat which are theoretically better for the environment, with taste just as good.
Just like plant-based meat, startups in this sector have raked in $2.6 billion in funding from investors including, once again, Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio.
These startups will have to overcome a lot more challenges than plant-based meat products. For now, lab-grown meat requires a massive amount of energy, and it costs a lot more.
Will lab-grown meat become the next fad? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I think for now, we can continue being hopeful about meat alternatives or keep consuming proteins that are more accessible and widely available to us.
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