Meatless meat is having its moment and we are here for it! 10 years ago, the idea of alternative meat was a distant dream for many and in some regards, a laughable idea. Since then technology has developed in leaps and bounds, thus creating the niche industry of alternative meats. Our consumption of meat kills more than 9 million animals each year and with increased awareness of the environmental impact of human actions, meatless meat may be the answer to solving this riddled equation.
What is meatless meat?
When we think of alternatives to meat, the first thing that comes to mind is veggie or vegan burgers. However, meatless meat remains unique in the sense that it is still marketed towards meat-eaters and not just vegetarians. The alternative meat option is made from plant-based products that imitate meat. The hope is to get consumers to replace their traditional meat with this new variation that tastes like meat, looks like meat but comes without the cost of killing an animal.
In addition to plant-based ‘meat’, there is another meatless meat alternative in the works: cell-based meat products. This process takes the cells of an animal and grows the meat in a production plant. The end-product consumed by humans does not come from animals held in captivity and slaughtered.
Companies disrupting the meatless meat space
As the meat industry faced a rising number of ethical and environmental challenges, food startups started manufacturing plant-based meat. One company that was at the forefront of this disruption is Beyond Meat. The company’s meatless burger patties became an instant success, making the company one of the biggest manufacturers of alternative meats. In 2019, they issued an IPO at a valuation of almost $1.5B.
The breakthrough was followed by numerous companies of its kind. Impossible Foods introduced the Impossible Burger that became a fast favorite among food critics and avid meat-eaters. The company raised $700 million in funding and is looking to issue an IPO in the near future. They have an enterprise valuation of $2B.
Even fast-food chains that have thrived on their meat-based foods have jumped on the alternative meats bandwagon. Impossible Foods partnered with Burger King to create the Impossible Whopper which replaces the meat in their burger patty with meatless meat by Impossible Foods. Carl’s Jr. and Del Taco are among other food chains that have created their own variant of Impossible Foods options.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods may have had scrappy beginnings but they have grown to overtake fast-food chains in an industry that could be worth $85 billion by 2030.
Is it better for the environment?
The meatless meat industry has blown up in recent years and with good reason. As we sit on the brink of an environmental collapse, meatless meat proves to be a safe and favorable alternative. Nearly 15% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock cultivation. In addition to this, animals need to eat 10 calories of plants to produce a single calorie of meat- this gives meatless meat a major cost advantage over traditional meat.
A study conducted on the Impossible Burger showed that carbon footprint from its production was 89% smaller than it would be for regular meat. Meatless meat technology also requires 96% less land and 87% less water for production. But given its advantages, the production of meatless meat only makes 1% of the production of meat. The alternative meat industry needs to make some serious headway in the catchup game.
The health impact
Although meatless meat is plant-based, it would not be wise to assume that it is healthy for you. Studies show that alternative meats can help you avoid the cancer risks associated with red meat but apart from this, you may as well be eating the real thing.
The plant-based elements in the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger are processed foods and cannot be likened to eating a salad or vegetables. These companies want consumers to have the experience of eating real meat and will also go as far as imitating the calorie and nutrient content of meat. However, research also shows that meatless meat does not face the risk of containing antibiotics and hormones that are fed to cows and present in the steaks and burgers we eat. While meatless meat does have its benefits, don’t be fooled into thinking you are making a healthy choice by choosing an Impossible Burger over a salad!
The bottom line
Meatless meat has a long way to catch up to its meat(full) counterparts but the Covid-19 pandemic may have accelerated this change. As slaughterhouses shutdown and Wendy’s ran out of burgers, there has been a boost in demand for plant-based meat. Impossible Foods hired extra labor to meet the increased demand and Beyond Meat hit record sales in April 2020. If demand continues to rise at the current rate, it’s won’t be long before meatless meat is the new meat!