Uphill for meat alternatives

Chicken producers at the recent Chicken Marketing Summit in Florida, USA, were told they needed to understand and respond to the competition from plant-based meat. At the moment, sales were dropping but competition would increase as prices of plant-based meat got closer to prices of real meat.

In an article headlined “Are plant-based meat alternatives destined to fail?”, reported on an address by JP Frossard, vice president, consumer foods analyst, at Rabobank.

“I’m not here to defend plant-based meat, but it’s important to look at it so we know how to react to consumer demand,” Frossard said.

Sales of plant-based meat alternatives soared during COVID-19, which worried the meat and poultry industries. Frossard attributed the pandemic jump to consumer boredom. They were stuck at home, tired of their usual recipes and proteins and thus looked for new items to try.

However, volume and dollar sales have slowed throughout 2022 and 2023. Inflation likely slowed some of this, especially because plant-based meat alternatives usually cost more than other proteins, namely chicken.

But the biggest factor behind slowed sales is that the meat-mimicking formula has “hit a wall”, Frossard said.

Plant-based meat alternatives were initially marketed as more sustainable and healthier than other proteins and consumers learned that was in fact not true when they read the labels.

Plant-based meat alternatives also need to focus on more than just sustainability, because “studies have shown that consumers won’t pay more just for sustainability”.

Although plant-based foods contained only a limited amount of plants, marketers should focus on the nutritional benefits of those plants. Consumers also care about taste, convenience and clean labels.

Frossard said that once plant-based meat alternatives were able to compete on price with meat proteins such as chicken, “consumers will choose the product that is better tasting, healthier or otherwise best meets their value”.