It’s no secret the US loves meat. The average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surpassing a record set in 2004.
But consumers’ carnivorous tastes are slowly shifting. Whether they’re making these changes are due to health, diet, environmental, ethical, or economic concerns, one thing is clear — people’s appetite for meat alternatives is bigger than ever.
Just look at the attention Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have received. In April, Impossible Foods announced that they raised $114 million in funding in the last 18 months and, earlier this year, 26,000-square-feet of R&D space was added to Beyond Meat’s lab in El Segundo.
Between 2012 and 2017, sales of US meat substitute in the packaged food industry have risen an average of 4.7% each year, according to market research firm Euromonitor. In comparison, processed meat only grew about 1.6% per year during the same period.
And this growth isn’t just a passing fad, the global meat substitutes market is estimated to be $4.63 billion in 2018 and is projected to grow to reach $6.43 billion by 2023. This includes everything from plant-based proteins to lab-grown meat.
However, one meat substitute is making a bit more noise than the rest. Lately, insect protein has received a lot of hype; even the United Nations has suggested switching to bugs. And, from the looks of it, those buying in will likely to reap some serious rewards.
New Protein In Town
According to Global Market Insights, the global edible insects market could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets making up the greatest potential growth areas.
We’re already seeing US food makers slowly beginning to experiment. Companies like Chirps, Bitty Foods, and Exo Protein are using cricket flour in various products, and MOM’s Organic Market started carrying some insect products last year. At the same time, IKEA announced they’re working on developing a “bug burger” and mealworm meatballs called “Neatballs”, which are designed to get people thinking about reducing their meat consumption by using local produce and trying alternative proteins.
Still, the idea of eating insects hasn’t gained mainstream acceptance. But, interest is growing.
A recent survey by the Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics found that people could be open to experimenting. After reading a text-only description, 57% of US consumers said they weren’t willing to try cookies containing cricket flour. But, the number dropped to 48% after seeing a photo of the cookies.
Meanwhile, Seek Food, a New York-based producer of snacks and blended baking flours made from crickets, managed to get more than double their target in a Kickstarter funding campaign. They raised $53,372 from 505 backers.
But if bugs still seem too hard to swallow, there has also been a lot of buzz about algae. It’s yet another “alt protein” we never really imagined eating, but according to a recent CNN article, it could be the vegan protein of the future.
The article focuses on wellness company iWi, who grow a strain of algae on a 900-acre farm. The algae is used to make a protein powder which, according to CEO Miguel Calatayud, will not “change the flavor” of the product. The protein packs a punch, can produce about seven times more protein than soybeans, and is farmed using methods that are said to be “100% sustainable and 100% scalable”.
Just The Beginning
Similar to how plant-based alternatives have infiltrated grocery stores and restaurants, it’s only a matter of time before you see bugs on the shelves and algae in the aisles. For example, this year in Canada, the largest grocer added cricket powder to their house-brand line of products.
But protein alternatives are only a drop in the bucket when it comes to the food industry’s massive shakeup.
Everything from product innovations to monitoring technologies and data analytics will become invaluable in how the world’s food system operates. For example, blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize food production by allowing consumers to see exactly where your food comes from and gene-editing technology could ensure our crops are drought resistant.
Bugs and sludge are only the tip of the iceberg.
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