Plant-Based Meat: Big Food Is Getting Ready

Plant-based meat has been around us for quite some time now, just over half a century, if we treat the discovery of Fusarium Venenatum, a high protein fungus, as the origin of it all. Led by Lord Rank in late 1960s, British scientists screened over 3,000 soil samples from around the world and later struck gold by uncovering this magnificent microorganism in the fungi family. Quorn, a very well known plant-based brand for all of us here in the UK and to most people in the region a direct association with their first ‘faux’ meat experience, introduced their first product made exactly of that – Fusarium Venenantum.

Fast forward to 2022 and we have hundreds of plant-based brands, thousands of great and not so great recipes, various ingredients that seemed to be destined to lead the food revolution only to find out a few years later that it wasn’t it (I’m looking at you Soy!). Today, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture accounts for around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions that are largely ignored by lawmakers when crafting their policies to combat climate change. This had me wondering — with so many new and promising brands in the supermarket shelves, better understanding of the mass meat production repercussions, followed by an evident shift in consumer preferences and sentiment — can we expect the plant-based sector to explode in the coming years? Are clouds forming for a perfect storm of change or will it continue to slowly add to our daily lives without making any major impact as it did over the past 50 years? As you might have understood from my first article of the year, I’m optimistic we’re set for a good run.

Animal agriculture accounts for around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions

Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for Healthcare Business at Mastercard, Raja Rajamannar, wrote in his latest article that sustainable food is having its moment in the sun with some of the largest fast food chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and KFC offering plant-based alternatives to their original menus. However, companies are not doing so out of sheer altruism — they are first doing so because it reflects that shift in consumer behaviour, change of trends. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, how important are the driving forces behind such changes? Whether it’s the environment, consumer’s health, animal’s welfare or corporate profits, whatever the key driver is, the end goal is what truly matters. 

The goal of reducing food production related gas emissions will not be achieved without Big Food playing its part in it, an incredibly large part. According to Statista, market revenue of plant-based meat worldwide stood at $8.9B in 2020 and it’s expected to more than double by 2025, that is grow to $14.1B. Impressive? I definitely thought so! Yet when we compare it with the market revenue of the meat industry itself, plant-based appears as a drop in an ocean — $838B in 2020 and the expectations of growth to over one trillion by 2025. These figures, however, do not take the recent shift in consumer behaviour into consideration.

What shift in consumer behaviour, some of you reading this long article might ask. If you, your family, friends or colleagues haven’t participated or heard about Veganuary this year, you might have been living under the rock for the last couple of months. Or you might have simply worked from home a little too much and a bit too intensely to miss this even. Nevertheless, it’s huge and got even bigger in 2022. However, if you did miss it, it’s not the only identification of this behavioural shift and the following might even paint a better picture — McDonald’s McPlant burger is more popular than initially expected, says Piper Sandler analyst Michael Lavery. In December, participating locations sold roughly 70 of the plant-based burgers it created with Beyond Meat per outlet every day in the chain’s initial small test of the menu item. The fast-food giant began testing the McPlant burger in November 2021 in eight restaurants to get a sense of how it would affect its operations. The chain is now expanding the offering to about 600 restaurants in San Francisco Bay and Dallas-Fort Worth areas plus hundreds of more across the entire US and UK. Lavery wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday that test locations were selling about three times more McPlant burgers than he initially forecast. For comparison, an average McDonald’s restaurant typically sells about 110 Big Macs per day.

Participating McDonald’s locations sold roughly 70 of the plant-based burgers it created with Beyond Meat per outlet every day. For comparison, an average McDonald’s restaurant typically sells about 110 Big Macs per day

An early success of McPlant is not a stand alone example. In late 2019, Pizza Hut became the first major pizza company in the US to add plant-based meat to its menu with the launch of Beyond Meat’s pizza range. Test locations reported similar adoption numbers to McDonald’s and it resulted in permanent partnership deal for the alternative meat company. Plant-based pizzas are now available countrywide in the UK (as of July 2021) and in Canada (as of January, 2022) following the success of similar tests. “Pizza Hut and Beyond Meat have a shared vision to innovate new and exciting products that will delight our guests. Beyond Italian Sausage Crumbles offer a delicious plant-based twist on our classic pork sausage that you’ll have to taste to believe.” said Amy Rozinsky, Head of Consumer Marketing, Pizza Hut Canada.

Sticking with Beyond, the company and Pepsi announced the joint venture, The PLANeT Partnership, nearly a year ago with the goal of creating plant-based snacks and drinks together worldwide. The partnership gives Beyond, a relative newcomer to the food world, a chance to leverage Pepsi’s production and marketing expertise for new products. For its part, Pepsi can deepen its investment in plant-based categories — which are growing increasingly crowded — while working with one of the top creators of meat substitutes. It also helps Pepsi work toward its sustainability and health goals for its portfolio. Pepsi CEO Ramon Laguarta said in September 2021 that the company is targeting early 2022 for the launch of the first product from the partnership. Not that much left to wait! 

McDonald’s – on board. Pizza Hut – on board. If that’s not enough to convince the sceptic in you that Big Food is getting ready and increasingly more involved in plant-based food offerings there are many more examples, recent or no longer that a couple of years old. Earlier this month (Jan 2022), Burger King UK, another titan of the industry, went a step further and announced a plan to make its menu 50% plant-based by 2030 as a way to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by just over 40%.

Alongside Pizza Hut, another Yum! brand — KFC —started the partnership with Beyond Meat in 2019 by testing their Fried Chicken in Atlanta, US, stores. It sold out in less than five hours! The menu item then got expanded to additional US cities in 2020, nationwide in 2021 and KFC just recently added Beyond’s Chicken to their UK menu as well (I’m yet to try it myself!). The last example for this particular article — Tesco — a UK-based grocer with locations across Europe — plans to increase plant-based food sales by 300% from 2018 to 2025. The company will achieve this, in part, by “[providing] plant-based proteins where a meat version is featured,” according to a leaked letter written by former CEO David Lewis. “Like you, we realise the UK needs to reduce meat and dairy consumption,” Lewis said in the letter. The company recently told Vox it is now a third of the way toward reaching that goal.

We realise the UK needs to reduce meat and dairy consumption

o summarise, consumers are getting more and more open about trying meat alternatives for the first time. Those who already did, are incorporating plant-based diet into their daily lives and it doesn’t have to be a full blown change right away. I love having at least 4-5 plant-based meals a week, if it’s more — fantastic. That number still is and has been steadily growing over the last 3 years and maybe in a few years’ time it will take the majority of my weekly meals. Having more and more consumers on board is great, yet the real difference will have to be made by supermarkets, local corner stores and restaurants across the globe. Judging from the above examples of McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and more, Big Food is getting ready to sell you more plant-based products. The industry seems to be (finally) embracing the change and in some cases even leading the charge. 

Excited to see what’s on the cards next — for animals, environment, consumers and the food industry. 

P.S. I own individual stocks of BYND and this article is in no way or form a financial advice. I just love the mission and brand behind it. Owning stocks and purchasing company products only reiterates my commitment to the global mission – transition from animal to plant-based meats and drinks.


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