Meat industry not at risk from plant-based alternatives, study finds

At least for now, there’s no reason for the traditional meat industry to have a lot of beef with producers of plant-based burgers and other meat alternatives, according to new research.

The study showed that while sales and market share of next-generation plant-based meat substitutes have increased in recent years, these gains have not translated into reduced consumer spending on plant-based products. animal meat.

Overall, analysis of domestic meat purchases suggested that plant-based meats sold as patty, link, and ground meat are primarily an addition to beef and pork and tend to serve as a substitute for chicken, with turkey and fish.

“We thought plant-based meat substitutes would be a potential substitute for red meat, but that’s not the case. It’s more of a supplement,” said the study’s co-author. Wuyang HuProfessor of Agricultural, Environmental, and Developmental Economics at The Ohio State University. “People are buying pork and beef, and at the same time they are also buying plant-based meats.”

The researchers noted that the study is not intended to take sides with any industry or take into consideration the comparative safety of products.

“This new generation of plant-based meat, by mimicking the taste and sensory experience of real meat, is aimed at not only vegetarian consumers, but also at people curious about plant-based meat and even meat eaters,” said the main author. Shuoli Zhaoassistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky.

“We wanted to look at the most recent market response to a new product and see how the demand for such a product interacts with the rest of the meat categories, especially in the fresh meat sector.”

Shuoli Zhao

The research team also included co-authors Lingxiao Wang from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yuqing Zheng from the University of Kentucky. The study was recently published in the journal Economic prospects and policies applied.

Imitation meat products and plant-based proteins such as tofu and tempeh have been available for years, but differ in texture, taste and smell from newer products like those sold by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – two brands that account for approximately 75% of all plant-based meat substitute (PBMA) sales. Studies have shown that increased demand and supply led to over $10 billion in global PBMA sales in 2018, and sales are expected to reach nearly $31 billion by 2026.

For this study, researchers obtained weekly Nielsen scanner data from the first week of January 2017 through the second week of July 2020 on fresh meat spending at grocery stores, drugstores, mass merchandisers, dollar stores and military in 40 US states. Study categories included plant-based meat alternatives, beef, chicken, turkey, pork, other meats (such as lamb and duck), and fresh fish.

The results showed that plant-based meat substitutes accounted for just 0.1% of average total fresh meat expenditure over the study period – but over the same period the market share quadrupled. , to reach 0.4%. Beef topped fresh meat sales at 46%, followed by chicken at 23%, pork and fish at about 12% each, and turkey and other meats accounting for less than 5% of meat sales fresh.

Beef and meat alternatives were the most expensive options, with beef costing an average of $5.44 per unit and PBMAs costing an average of $4.84 per unit. Of all the choices studied, spending on plant-based products tended to increase the most when these products were on sale. Lower prices for beef and chicken have lowered demand for plant-based meats, but lower prices for imitation meats have not had much of an effect on demand for animal protein sources.

These results, along with the way plant-based meat sales increased during product promotions, suggest that plant-based meat substitutes were “more of an impulse buy and not a weekly buy,” Hu said. . “We concluded that it is the search for novelty. Consumers are followers of the pack. When they see a trend, they say, “I should try that” and form similar preferences.

The findings also suggest that most of the growth in plant-based market share has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, when prices for fresh meat rose dramatically as lockdowns were sending shocks down the supply chain – however, the data could not confirm a causal effect. The uptick in PBMA market share was still occurring at the end of the study period in July 2020. Meanwhile, sales of all fresh animal protein sources soared at the onset of the pandemic, and meat and fish generally maintained their market share over the period. the next months.

The rapid pace of growth in the market share of plant-based meat substitutes has made it the fastest growing category in the study, but these products have still not had much of an impact on the other categories: meat consumption in the United States in 2018 was among the highest in history, at 222 pounds per capita.

“We hypothesized that from the perspective of plant-based meat alternatives companies, what they’re trying to do is replace people’s diets of beef and pork,” he said. said Zhao. “We actually found it to be the opposite. Consumers purchase plant-based meat substitutes in addition to expected fresh meat expenditures, or are triggered by a promotion or the layout of the retail environment – indicating that it is not presently a real threat to the fresh meat industry.

“Our findings suggest that in addition to marketing, plant-based protein companies should focus their R&D on delivering products that meet consumer expectations – and then people will make their own choices about whether meat alternatives will become a mainstream choice. staple in their diet.”

This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

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