In recent years, we’ve seen incredible technological innovation in the plant-based food industry. Fake meat products have gone from a niche consumer interest to a mainstream one, with the quality of products and their likeness to real meat getting better and better every year.
Why have plant-based alternatives become so popular?
Plant-based meats are starting to hit that “sweet spot” where they’re competitive with the animal-based meat products they’re trying to replace. They offer the same (if not more) in terms of taste, price and accessibility.
And there’s another crucial difference to today’s meatless meat products. Traditionally, veggie burgers were aimed mostly at vegetarians. Nowadays, an alternative meat like the Impossible Burger is being made to taste like meat, be marketed to meat-eating customers and replace some of those consumers’ meat purchases.
With daily meat consumption in the UK falling by 17% in the last decade, it’s no surprise the quality of plant-based alternatives continues to increase.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why many businesses are tapping into this market…
They create opportunities for growth
Plant-based products can create real opportunities for growth in the food industry:
- A Mintel report estimates UK meat-free food sales will exceed £1.1 billion by 2024
- When KFC introduced its Quorn chicken burger, it sold one million patties in the first month alone
- Since Veganuary 2021, Deliveroo revealed they had seen an overall 117% surge in searches for vegan-specific food
- Last year, Tesco reported that demand for plant-based foods rose by 35% compared to 2020, with sales of certain products rising by up to 750%
- According to data from Kantar, vegan-specific ranges were bought by 6.6 million households in January, up 10% from 2020
These stats confirm what the food sector already knows – the plant-based food trend is here to stay. For independent food business that might still be unsure whether the plant-based trend is for them, you can take some inspiration from Croots Farm Shop.
Around two years ago, the UK-based shop began increasing its vegan range of products to include non-meat sausages. Since the launch, sales have been up by 117% year-on-year. “I can’t make them fast enough,” owner Steve Croot told Speciality Food. “Sometimes they almost fly out of the freezer or off the shelves. I think we might have to invest in a bigger sausage machine so that I can keep up with demand because the vegan sausages are especially popular.”
They offer a higher level of food safety and better shelf life
Plant-based meat production processes take place in sterile environments with complete end-to-end operational control. This results in less bacterial contamination, improving shelf life and food safety.
The legacy meat supply chain is also vulnerable to animal disease outbreaks like African swine fever and foodborne illness outbreaks. All these risks are greatly reduced with plant-based proteins, which markedly improve food safety, supply availability and sales stability compared to their animal-based counterparts.
They’re better for the environment
The environmental benefits of plant-based meats cannot be understated. According to the United Nations, the meat industry is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the world.
On a calorie-to-calorie basis:
- Beef contributes 17.7 times as much GHG into the atmosphere as tofu
- Beef contributes 50 times as much GHG as beans
- Beef contributes nearly 180 times as much GHG as nuts
The UN also adds that meat production leads to deforestation, land degradation and water contamination.
By shifting some of this land away from meat production and dedicating it to plant-based foods, it would allow large parts of the planet to recover from resource extraction. Plus, it would reduce the amount of crop land needed to feed the planet and allow farmers to grow crops that regenerate landscapes.
“Meat” the leading meatless manufacturers
Let’s take a look at some of the leading manufacturers of plant-based meat products…
First launched in the UK back in 1985, Quorn has been the pioneers for vegetarian alternatives to meat. In recent years, they’ve been moving closer to the realistic meat substitutes aimed at meat-eaters by collaborating with some of the biggest brands in the food industry.
For example, their vegan sausage roll helped Greggs record £1billion in sales for the first time. Off the back of this success, Greggs was able to reward their employees with a £7 million special bonus. And there’s also the award-winning Vegan Smoky Ham & CheeZe Toastie with Costa Coffee, which is available across 800 outlets in the UK.
In a recent press release, Peter Harrison, Chief Commercial Officer of Quorn Foods said: “We are helping consumers to enjoy delicious meat free foods in the high street and the consumer response and subsequent sales across the likes of KFC, Greggs and Costa proves that we are doing something right.”
Quorn has also made big strides in their own operations by recently investing in a new £150 million factory in Billingham, England. This has helped double their production capacity and create the world’s biggest ‘meat alternative’ factory. The company recorded a 2.9% rise in revenues in 2020 to £236.2m, continuing a long-term growth period.
Meatless Farm Co
Meatless Farm Co. is another sustainable, plant-based food company that was founded in the UK but now has a presence in several global markets, including the US, Hong Kong and Sweden.
The company recorded an impressive 92% increase in global retail sales at the start of 2021 compared to the same period last year, making Veganuary 2021 their most successful month since launching back in 2018.
Morten Toft Bech, founder of Meatless Farm, said that it was clear consumers are looking to incorporate more plant-based eating at the moment. “We know that these ‘meat-reducing’ consumers in particular want ease, access, convenience and most importantly taste and nutrition which is why we are constantly innovating with new products, twists on existing products and improvements to our recipes,” said Bech.
“Broadening our retail partnerships and working with leading food chains helps to ensure that plant-based options are easily accessible in as many places as possible and tempts more people to give them a go.”
Established in 2018, Novameat is a food tech start-up based in Barcelona, Spain, that works with plant-based foods, including plant-based meat substitutes. Recently, the company revealed it had developed the world’s first 3D printed plant-based beef steak with the appearance and texture of a whole beef muscle cut.
Then, in December 2021, Novameat was one of the European companies chosen by the European Commission to receive part of the largest-ever funding round from the European Innovation Council Accelerator. Novameat will put the $2 million grant towards scaling up their production capabilities and accelerating the launch of their plant-based whole cut products to market.
Speaking on the invention of plant-based steak, Giuseppe Scionti, CEO of Novameat, said the company wanted to show consumers there are “no limits” to how we can consume food. “With our technology, we are able to create whole cuts and hybrid alternative meat products with a variety of ingredients,” said Scionti.
The demand for plant-based innovation is growing at a rapid rate
Continued advances in genetic engineering and plant-based innovation will further enhance the taste, flavour and healthiness of meatless products to incentivise consumers to buy.
And to keep ahead of the competition, you’ll need your business setup in the right way. This means having the right technology in place but it can also mean having the right business model, processes or product marketing strategy.
In our latest food report, we help you understand the latest food trends and look towards the future. You’ll learn:
- The rising consumer and technological trends
- The importance of having specialist solutions that are tailored to the food industry
- The concept of business value and why food businesses need to look beyond system implementations
- And more
Ready? Click the button below to download your copy.