The Alternative Protein Wave

March 2021

I have been following alternative proteins and cellular agriculture for some years now and what I talked about as a "futurist" back then is now arriving on our supermarket shelves and in our restaurants and pubs.

Sales are still relatively low in Australia but the real barriers to fast growth will be consumer reactions to flavour, texture and price balanced against their commitment to sustainability - which is the real driver here. When I first tasted the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat's Burger in the US in 2017, they were acceptable substitutes, but not great. Both have released better versions since then and the range of products has expanded to include sausages, bacon, chicken and it will continue.

Cellular Agriculture or "Lab Grown Meat" is the other more sustainable option to normal meat. The ability to grow real meat from animal cells and produce tonnes of product every month in a factory using a comparatively miniscule area of land, water and other resources is a phenomenal achievement. Again the real test will be the consumer's acceptance of taste and flavour versus environmental concerns. See World Economic Forum video.

The goal of both versions of alternative meats is to recreate the same taste, texture and experience that consumers get from meat without the environmental impacts of the meat industry. In Australia there is a strong emotional connection with eating and farming good meat. Just ask Meat and Livestock Association who, naturally, defend the superiority of real meat. At the 2020 Global Food Forum last year, their MD, Jason Strong, warned against vested interests who are trying to convince the market to move away from red meat into these new alternatives. Naturally he also has a vested interest in the other direction.

See MLA Article.

But the reality is, and as Jason did mention, there is a huge growing global demand for protein to which there is no guaranteed solution yet. MLA also point to proportion of vegans in our population not changing and that Australian consumers "feel good" about the meat industry. I believe the first point is irrelevant because vegans are not the target market for alternative protein manufacturers, it is meat eaters. The second point is likely to change as consumers become informed by this new industry about the environmental costs of meat production combined with inevitable price increases of real meat versus the alternatives.

The size and nature of the investment in these new meat forms is the largest single change in the food industry in human history.

At Food Industry Foresight, we measure the market size of all product categories across all foodservice channels - every year. We have had to create a whole new product category to measure these new alternatives because they aren't normal vegetables or grains nor are they meat. So 2021 will be the first time we include the new category Alternative Proteins in our market sizing.

Current evidence suggests the following predictions:

  • The cost of real meats will continue to rise,
  • The cost of alternative proteins will continue to go down,
  • Traditional meat eaters will substitute some meal choices with alternative proteins.

I see both sides existing alongside each other with real meat tending to be the premium high value end of the market. Only time will tell......