The fast food industry has embraced “fake meat.” And there is no turning back

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Plant-based meat and dairy products are gaining popularity. And among a particularly important group, moreover: that of the food industry. Although the percentage of business they represent is still far from the sales of animal products, large “fast food” chains, supermarkets and manufacturers have decided to give more prominence to foods that, until not long ago, seemed condemned to the last shelves or the final lines of the menus.

The bet is already appreciated; but perhaps the most important thing is that —at least if we take into account the plans of some large companies— it will continue to strengthen over time.

If given the circumstances the metaphor did not sound strange, it could be said that they have begun to put all the meat on the grill with products of plant origin. The question is: why?


A trend with names and numbers. While one need only glance at chains like Burber King to see plant-based options gaining traction, the increased weight of plant-based offerings can be achieved with hard numbers and commitments. as detailed voxin 2020, for example, the Panera Bread chain advanced its plans to reinforce its plant-based offer: if it was then 25% of your menu, your goal is to make it 50%.

from chain to chain. Similar steps have been taken by Burger King, which states that, at least in the United Kingdom, half of its menu is vegetable by 2030. The announcement came shortly after its main competitor, the McDonald’s chain reached an agreement with Beyond Meatspecialized in vegan “meats”, for McPlant and the products that it develops in the same line in the future.

Beyond “fast food”, the supermarket firm Tesco wants its sales of vegetable alternatives between 2018 and 2025 grow 300%; and Unileverbehind brands like Ben & Herry’s, has promised to “accelerate” the availability of vegetable options in their ice creams.

A bet that is felt in supermarkets. Tesco is not the only large supermarket chain that has jumped on the trend. Two years ago Mercadona, for example, decided to bet on Heura Foods, Foods for Tomorrow’s brand of plant-based meat products, including it in its business accelerator. Around the same time, the German Lidl, another of the chains with the greatest presence in the Spanish market, also launched in the domestic market its own “fake meat,” made with pea protein, under the Next Level Meat brand.

In a similar vein, Swiss giant Nestlé launched through the shelves of Carrefour the Incredible Burger product, a hamburger made mainly with soy and wheat that had been released shortly before in other parts of Europe. In other chains, such as Aldi, Alcampo, La Sirena, Sánchez Romero, El Corte Inglés or Eroski, there are also shelves with white or recognized brands.

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The increase in business, decisive. The change could hardly be explained without the demand. That chains and manufacturers are taking the step is explained, to a large extent, by the fact that more and more products of plant origin are sold. According to data from the Smart Protein study, based on data from the consulting firm Nielsen, the plant-based sector grew by 49% in Europe in just two years. In autumn 2020 that translated into a total sales value of €3.6 billion. In Spain, which experienced a similar rise, the market value was around 448 million. Much of that amount, 87 million euros, corresponds to vegetable meats, which grew by around 31%.

The novelty effect. Part of these two-digit percentages could be explained, yes, by the “novelty effect” of the product itself. In the United States, the consumption of fake meat has already gone from growing 46% in 2020 to reversing the trend and registering a very slight drop of 0.5% in 2021.

Nielsen’s study is not the only one, in any case, that draws an increase. A report released in 2020 by the Lantern consultancy places Spain in the “Top 10” of vegetarian countries and 10% of the population claims to have a mainly vegetable diet, which is equivalent to 3.8 million people. In just two years the segment of the population increased exponentially, 27%and about 35% of Spaniards reduced or directly eliminated their consumption of red meat.

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production cost. “Fake meat” is not only more in demand. Little by little it is also becoming cheaper to make it, one of the reasons that may explain the commitment of chains such as McDonald’s or Burger King, which operate in a market with very tight rates.

Aware that it can be one of the great barriers to attracting new consumers, the industry has been looking for ways to reduce prices. As detailed voxFor example, if in 2019 the production cost of Beyond could be around 4.5 dollars per pound of meat per year, in 2020 it was already 3.5. In the case of Impossible, a price cut of approximately 15% would have also been achieved at the beginning of 2020. The downward trend even reaches laboratory-grown meat and there are voices that already point out that vegetable it will be cheaper than the animal.

Change of diet, and change of mentality. The increase in demand for “fake meat” coincides with another rise, just as key: that of sensitivity to animal welfare. A report from the BBVA Foundation concludes that about 80% of those surveyed consider that animals have a dignity that must be respected. In the field of food, this backdrop coincides with an increase in people who decide to contribute the meat of their lives. The Green Revolution report it draws the trend well: in 2017 it detected that 7.8% of the adult population claimed to base their diet on vegetables; two years later it was already 9.9% and in 2021 it placed the percentage at 13%.

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The environmental debate, in the background. We don’t just rethink food. We also do it with the impact of the meat industry on the environment. The best example that the debate is on the table leaves it the controversy opened in January by Minister Alberto Garzón.

“14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, especially from macro-farms, while for us to have 1 kilo of beef, 15,000 liters of water are required,” explained the minister himself. from your Twitter account. According to FAO data, world livestock generates 7.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year. In the Netherlands, the government has already announced a plan of 25,000 million euros to reduce their cattle.

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A matter of image… but with perspective. Another of the great keys is the media support that the new alternatives to meat have achieved. Beyond Meat, a firm dedicated to the production of hamburgers and vegan products, has obtained the support, among others, Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio. At Kroger They have directly chosen to break the barrier between foods and sell those of plant origin in the meat section, not in separate aisles.

Beyond that change of image or trend, undeniable, the data shows that plant-based meat still takes a very small part of the sales pie. as pointed out vox, although their sales increased by 45% in the United States between 2019 and 2020, today they still represent a small part: about 1% of retail meat operations by volume. in 2019 other sources pointed which accounted for 10% of the global market, a higher percentage, but which continues to reflect that it still reaches a limited space.

Images | Raul Gonzalez Escobar (Unplash) and Jakob Cotton (Unplash)

Plant-based meat and dairy products are gaining popularity. And among a particularly important group, moreover: that of the food industry.…

Plant-based meat and dairy products are gaining popularity. And among a particularly important group, moreover: that of the food industry.…

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