In recent months, large numbers of workers at our country’s meat-processing plants have tested positive for COVID-19. Because certain plants have stopped operations, our country’s meat supply has been placed in peril.
Meat has become more expensive, less varied, and more difficult to find. This may last for months. Products that are flavored or handled in specialized facilities (including organic or grass-fed varieties) will be particularly vulnerable to price hikes.
Growth in Plant-Based Meat
According to the Financial Times, there was a 200 percent increase for plant-based meat substitutes in the week ending April 18, 2020, compared to the same week in 2019. Whether pandemic-related or not, there’s an increase in demand.
From 2017 to 2019, alternative meat sales grew 37 percent in North America. In the next decade alone, sales are expected to grow approximately twentyfold. Currently, plant-based meat sales are increasing at five times the pace of overall retail food sales, even though these products account for only one-fifth of 1 percent of the meat Americans eat. Consumers seek out plant-based products for many reasons, but these numbers indicate that alternative meat products are surging in popularity.
Even corporate chains are taking notice. In 2019, Burger King introduced a soy-based burger. In Canada, McDonald’s consumers will soon be taste-testing a pea-based burger. Kentucky Fried Chicken recently launched a wide evaluation for its Beyond Fried Chicken, made from plants. In the past, plant-based meats were geared toward the vegan and vegetarian crowds. These days they’re designed for the masses.
The meat industry has its eye on the growing industry too. Billionaire investors and industry giants (among them Perdue and Tyson) are launching their own plant-based meat products.
Tastes Like Chicken
In the US, 105 billion pounds of chicken are eaten each year. Animal welfare advocates and sustainability researchers say that by switching to plant-based options, we can help eliminate the antibiotic resistance and tight confinement of animals living on factory farms. An increase in consumption of plant-based meats will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since fewer acres are needed to grow these proteins than what’s needed to grow crops for animals that eventually become food.
However much animal welfare and environmental concerns are stressed to the public, some consumers are devoted to their traditional chicken nuggets. In order to embrace plant-based meat, these people need assurance that a plant-based version will be similar in taste and texture to the products they know and love. If plant-based versions offer familiarity, convenience, and taste, people will be more likely to embrace them.
Plant-based chicken products have been slower to hit the market than plant-based beef. One reason is companies needed proof of market success. After witnessing the popularity of plant-based beef, they are now developing more plant-based chicken products.
It turns out it’s harder to develop plant-based chicken than ground beef alternatives. Plant-based chicken requires additional research to mimic the pull-apart texture of chicken that consumers want. But plant-based “chicken” sandwiches are expected to be an option in restaurants and on fast-food menus soon.