Long road to meat-free future

Dutch banker Rabobank and US-based CoBank have both released reports examining the future for alternative proteins. While acknowledging that alternative proteins such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have created a lot of buzz and some high-profile investments from the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson, the two reports look at the likely future, and implications for the ever-growing range of alternative proteins.

Both agree that it will be a while before competition from alternative protein will threaten traditional pork, beef and poultry. Factors such as price and quality will be the main challenges for alternative protein according to CoBank. CoBank argues that alternative proteins may never be cheaper than a pound of feedlot-finished ground beef. At the minute, San Francisco-based food technology company Memphis Meats is spending US$2,400 to make a pound of cultured ground beef, down from US$18,000 last year. And while consumers have no problem paying 3.5% more for beef that was ‘naturally raised, organic and grass-fed’, there are no guarantees they would pay extra for meat-less meat. The US-based ag-bank also points to regulatory hurdles. Currently, alternative meats are created via muscle cells of donor animals that self-replicate or by using stem cells to proliferate adult skeletal muscle satellite cells that grow in a bioreactor. While taste, colour and iron still don’t resemble that of meat, researchers are addressing these issues at a rapid pace.

In its report encompassing all ingredient substitutes, Rabobank tips growth for alt-protein products in the next five years will account for a third of all protein demand growth in Europe. Measured by weight, Europeans may be consuming nearly double alternative proteins in the next five years; from 130,000t to 250,000t. In the US, the weight of alternative proteins is projected to see a CAGR of about 6% per year, accounting for 2% of all demand growth.

Rabobank also points out that most people aren’t going to pay extra for protein substitutes on a regular basis, so there won’t be many meat free burgers sold in McDonald’s in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Rabobank stresses the alternative protein trend is something animal protein producers need to take seriously.  The report concludes “The market is asking questions of the whole animal protein supply chain, and some consumers are voting with their wallets in favour of alternative proteins.” Whether or not alternative proteins are a viable alternative today or in 10 years, the consumer concerns that are driving the hype and investment are real and current.