Meat Alternatives: Not Just Buzz Anymore

( Jennifer Shike )

Meat alternatives are not a new thing, but the buzz around these products is definitely growing. Kaitlyn Compart, senior science manager of packaged meats at Smithfield Foods, said one of the main reasons for the increased attention is product placement in grocery stores.

“We've had the analogs or mimics for quite some time. These typically were found in the frozen part of the grocery store and they were bean-based or soy based. It's becoming more popular now because they're being introduced to the public differently,” Compart said at the 2019 National Swine Improvement Federation meeting in Indianapolis. “Not only are they at popular fast food restaurants like the Impossible burgers with Burger King, but they're going to be in the fresh retail meat case.”

She said that’s a big departure from where these products have been previously. 

Another big difference between the frozen bean-based products and the fresh meat case alternatives is their target audience.

Globally, 3% of consumers consider themselves vegan, 6% vegetarian and 21% are trying to limit meat intake. The newest meat alternatives are targeting this last group – flexitarians –trying to lower the amount of meat they eat each week. 

“I’ve been careful to not call this a trend because it is well beyond a trend at this point. It’s not new. It’s not generational,” Compart said. “One in three baby boomers have been interested in meat alternatives, want to try or have tried meat alternatives. About 50-55% of Gen X and Gen Y have and 75% of Millennials have. It’s across the board.”

Why should pork producers pay attention?
It's important for any livestock producer to stay in touch with what's happening in the meat market, she said. 

Even though these plant-protein products aren’t animal-based products, they directly compete with meat products. 

“I still think there's plenty of room for both in the market,” she adds. “But it's always important to look and see what's going to be coming and sitting right next to that pork product in the refrigerated case. And it's not just hamburgers, it's not just beef, pork products are being mimicked as well.”

What does the future hold for plant-based meat alternatives?
It’s hard to know what the future holds but Compart believes consumers will see more diversification of products from the type of plant proteins used to new types of products they are mimicking. 

“So it's not just hamburgers or sausage, you're going to see bratwurst, breakfast sausages and more ready-to-eat products potentially,” she said. “Consumers are going to have more to choose from and a lot of variety.”

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

Food Industry Experts Agree – Real Meat is Staying on the Plate

Livestock Protein Still Tops Plant-based Alternatives for Consumers

Science Can't Sell Fake Meat