By Dennis DiPietre and Lance Mulberry
You have no doubt heard about the plant-based meat substitutes beginning to proliferate. With that said, you likely are underestimating the eventual market share and impact the alternatives will have on the demand for your production. This is a well-established pattern, to believe that surely “normal people” will reject this “flash-in-the-pan” fad right up until you are overwhelmed by it. You need to go out and buy the classics and the new plant-based items on a fast-food menu and do your own taste test. You will immediately admit that a quantum leap has occurred in food technology.
For many years, I have taste tested the “vegan” meat substitutes purely out of curiosity. I’m talking about the slimy, mushy, off-putting wads of plant material stamped out to look like a “pork chop” or a flattened chicken breast, complete with tasteless fake grill marks painted on them with beet juice. I did my most recent taste test with the above historical experiences in mind.
Not only could I not tell the difference in most of the blind comparisons, I strongly preferred the meat substitutes, based on flavor alone, in a couple of the products. After the taste comparison, I moved on to sensory/visual attributes, and much to my surprise they were stunningly comparable. Tear apart a fast food veggie patty and not only does it tear like ground beef but the torn edge has the texturing to exactly replicate a torn hamburger patty.
The difference now versus then is that these products are the end-product of the most sophisticated food science available and are being created by top-flight food engineers and chefs. This is not a protest against animal consumption (like the past meat substitutes) where devotees would suffer the ignominious taste and texture horrors for the “cause” while feeling self-righteous and suitably penitent. These new products are coming for your market share, not for your quasi-religious kook neighbors who think even carrots squeal when they are pulled from the ground. The companies behind plant-based meat substitutes will suffer some setbacks but they are nimble, well-funded and have the backing of some very large food industry players.
Increasing pork exports to China will mask the slow erosion of total demand as plant-based meats gain market share. What to do? The key: recreate a serious competitor by restoring flavor attributes stripped out by the single-minded focus on lean muscle-tissue cost efficiency, the pathway to “mutually destructive competition” (see Michael Porter, Harvard Business guru).
These plant-products taste like the memory of beef and pork, back when they were more than just a carrier for spices, a route first carved out by poultry and then followed by the rest. It ain’t all cost reduction folks, and the dirty secret is, it never was.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are expressly those of the author.
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