Demand for meat rising

Demand for meat rising despite deluge of plant-based alternatives, report finds

Meanwhile, plant-based alternatives account for just one per cent of all retail meat sales

Impossible Burgers at Disney Parks. Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches at Starbucks. The proprietary Plantiful burger at Wendy’s. Another day, another plant-based product rollout, or so it would seem. Add the frequency of cattle rancher counterattacks targeting labelling requirements and language into the mix, and you’d be forgiven for assuming meat was in trouble. But as recent analysis shows, demand for animal protein is rising.

Despite the plant-based boom, The Power of Meat 2020 reveals that the appetite for animal protein is strong. Sales in the U.S. exceeded $69 billion in 2019, according to the annual trend report conducted by The Food Industry Association (FMI), the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education, and the North American Meat Institute. Household spending on the whole is up, with beef and chicken propelling meat department sales, in value and volume.

In the face of mounting scientific evidence — including a recent University of Oxford examination of the environmental impact of 29 foods, which identified beef, lamb and mutton, and cheese as generating the most greenhouse gas emissions — the study found that nearly half of consumers (49 per cent) think animal agriculture doesn’t harm the planet, “if done properly.”

Plant-based alternatives account for just one per cent of all retail meat sales. 

Forty per cent of participants reported an interest in learning more from meat companies about their environmental impact, while 46 per cent wanted to hear about animal care practices, 57 per cent food about safety practices, and 58 per cent about nutrition.

As previous studies have shown, The Power of Meat 2020 found that so-called flexitarians — flexible vegetarians, or people who take a non-restrictive approach to meat-eating — are higher in number than those who identify as vegetarian or vegan. The report put the number of flexitarians at 12 per cent; a 2019 survey conducted by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph found that nearly 20 per cent of Canadians are either eating less meat or cutting it out altogether.

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“One of the most compelling storylines in the analysis is that 85 per cent of shoppers purchase specific cuts of meat and they are eating smaller portions, but with total volume sales up slightly, that means they are eating less more often,” Rick Stein, FMI’s vice president of fresh foods, said in a statement.

In the U.S., consumption of beef in particular has never been higher: As stated by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, sales have been on the rise since 2015, reached an all-time peak in 2019, and are only expected to keep increasing.

In the U.S., beef sales reached an all-time peak in 2019 and are only expected to keep increasing. 

Meanwhile, plant-based alternatives account for just one per cent of all retail meat sales, according to the Good Food Institute, a non-profit that promotes plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. Regardless of the proliferation of high-profile plant-based offerings on the market, sales of alternatives — typically more expensive than their animal-derived counterparts — still aren’t in step with meat.

In an effort to close this gap, one of the leading plant-based players is adjusting its pricing. To make its patties more financially competitive with beef, Impossible Foods announced it would cut prices by 15 per cent earlier this month. Ethan Brown, CEO of competitor Beyond Meat, expressed a similar intention this time last year, telling Forbes, “There’s no reason (plant-based protein) shouldn’t be cheaper than meat.”

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