4 min read

The Future is Plant-Based

Meatless burgers may have put protein alternatives on the map, but beef is just the beginning. From fish to chicken and even pork, there’s a growing list of startups racing to replace meat as we know it.

Meanwhile, this plant-based coup isn’t isolated to just animal protein — the dairy industry is also under siege. Milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream… You name it, and there’s an incredibly well-funded startup seeking to make dairy obsolete.

As investors pour millions into innovative startups, Big Food isn’t going down without a fight.

Setting the table: As the momentum behind replacement foods reaches an all-time high, it’s worth considering the following: which startups are leading the way? Where do industry incumbents fit in? How is the market reacting? And how will consumers react to a world where their food is engineered in a lab or made out of plants? Let’s take a look.

Where’s the beef?

Whether it’s health concerns associated with eating meat or the environmental impact of animal agriculture, more and more Americans are choosing to reduce meat consumption and seek out meat alternatives instead. In fact, a recent Nielsen Homescan survey found that 39% of Americans are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods.

This shift in consumer preferences is bolstering plant-based meat sales, which could increase by 1,000% in the next decade to reach $140B, according to investment firm Barclays.

But plant-based is only one piece of the puzzle. A number of companies are working to bring cell-based or lab-grown meat alternatives to marketing. Combined, A.T. Kearney predicts that by 2040, cultured meat will make up 35% of meat consumed worldwide, while plant-based alternatives will account for 25%.

When it comes to plant-based meat alternatives, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are leading the charge. While the former is riding the wave of a successful IPO, the latter recently raked in $300M in new funding, bringing their funding total to $750M. In both instances, demand for each company’s burgers has repeatedly exceeded supply — a seal of approval from consumers and a sign of significant upside in the market.

While Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods dominate the headlines, showing up in grocery stores and fast-food chains while teasing the idea of dairy and fish replacements, there’s a growing list of competitors taking shape.

JUST, Mosa Meat, Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, and New Age Meats are developing lab-grown protein alternatives. Before The Butcher, recently purchased by the owners of the Jensen Meat Company, is prepping their soy-based meat alternatives for scale. Meanwhile, UK-based The Meatless Farm Co. is set to make its US debut at Whole Foods Markets nationwide.

At the same time, market leaders and Big Food brands are doubling-down on plant-based meat:

  • Nestlé has unveiled its plant-based Incredible Burger.
  • Tyson Foods divested from Beyond Meat to launch its own plant-based line.
  • Conagra plans to scale its plant-based brand Gardein.
  • Kellogg’s-owned Morningstar Farms represents
  • Unilever recently acquired European company The Vegetarian Butcher.

Beyond Beef

Plant-based or lab-grown notwithstanding, burgers are merely a slice of the replacement food pie.

Something fishy. Fish and seafood now account for nearly a fifth of the animal protein people consume. But, demand has led to overfishing and unsustainable farming practices. Increasingly, plant-based and lab-grown production seem to be inevitable. Finless Foods ($3.5M in funding), Wild Type ($16M), BlueNalu ($4.5M) and Shiok Meats ($4.6M) are developing lab-grown fish and seafood. Meanwhile, Good Catch ($50.7M), Prime Roots ($4.5M) and Ocean Hugger Foods are working on plant-based alternatives.

Dairy’s downfall. In 2018, sales of dairy milk plummeted by $1.1B in 2018. At the same time, dairy alternative startups saw over $200M in total investment, with three companies (Ripple Foods, Califia Farms, and Kite Hill) raising $40M or more, per Food+Tech Connect. Looking ahead, oat milk, plant-based yogurt, and non-dairy ice cream represent huge opportunities.

Tastes like chicken. Poultry might prove to be the final frontier of fake meat. Apparently, replicating the texture of chicken breast, thighs, and wings is a tall order. As a result, companies in the space are having to start by developing “nuggets.” Rebellyous Foods ($2.2M in funding), Nuggs ($7M), Sunfed Meats (NZ$10M/US$6.76M), and JUST ($220M) are among the companies hoping to make headway. In the meantime, Chick-fil-A and KFC are said to be exploring meat alternatives.

Looking ahead: At this point, it’s clear: innovation will remake our food system. What’s less clear, though, is how it all plays out. Already, we’ve seen legal challenges related to what constitutes “meat” and “milk.” Separately, there are health concerns, like the fact that plant-based meat is a processed food. And there’s skepticism that lab-grown meat will simply replicate many of the existing issues of our current food system.

Nonetheless, the replacement food revolution has only just begun. If Beyond Meat’s reception is any indicator, expect to see more investment dollars fuel faster innovation as meatless meat move further into the mainstream.

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