Meat consumption is at an all-time high, which would seem to be an encouraging sign for the industry. The average American is currently eating about 140 pounds of meat each year, compared to 120 in the 1970s. Additionally, the number of vegans or vegetarians in the past 20 years has not increased.
However, regular meat sales have been slowing down, with only a 3% increase in sales in 2019, while plant-based meats saw a growth of 18.4%. Additionally, it is estimated that the United States has reached peak meat consumption, and consumption rates will begin to decline. Restaurants must be anticipating this trend as well, with many coming out with meat-imitation products such as Burger King and White Castle launching impossible burgers in 2019 and 2018 respectively. Major meat producers are even hopping on the plant-based meat trend, despite meat imitation products competing with their own products. Tyson, Nestle, Smithfield, Hormel, and Perdue have all launched their own versions of plant-based meat in an attempt to capture sales from the growth of these products and diversify their products in case meat sales decline. Tyson also created a venture capital arm to invest in the future of meat, and have investments in plant-based seafood, plant-based meat, and lab-grown meat. While it is unlikely that meat is going to disappear anytime soon, these investments from meat companies tell that it is likely that plant-based meat will be stealing more meat customers.
These trends in the meat and alternative meat industry seem a bit confusing considering that the United States has not seen a growth in the number of fully plant-based eaters. Younger consumers are mostly responsible for this, as they are more likely to eat less meat a few times a week without fully committing to being vegetarian or vegan. Studies have found that close to half of Millennials and Gen Z consume plant-based meat at least once a month, compared to 1/5th of people older than 55. Apparently, 70% of people worldwide are trying to eat less meat, and Millenials are largely responsible for this as they have increasing concerns over health, climate change, and animal rights. As Millennials and Gen Z begin to make up a larger portion of the United States population, these trends will have an even larger impact.
Beyond Meat, a former company in Tyson’s portfolio and a maker of realistic plant-based meat is a prime example of this as 93% of their consumers also consume real meat. Beyond Meat developed their burger with extensive research to try and imitate the taste, texture, and look of a real burger as closely as possible. Evidentially, the design of the Beyond Burger is an attempt to get more meat-eaters willing to use plant-based options, at least some of the time, and it’s working. Plant-based meat sales are expected to rise to $6.4 billion by 2023. The founder of Beyond Meat also has an optimistic view: “I think plant-based meat will overtake animal protein as the main source of meat… I do believe it will happen in my lifetime.”
Author: Marta Rohner