What Kind Of Meat Is On Your Menu?

Do you prefer to eat meat, vegetables or some of each? Regardless of how you answer that question, now you can have your, uhm, burger, and eat it, too. While beef, pork and chicken are still the protein mainstays in the U.S., meatless proteins are showing up routinely in supermarkets and, increasingly, on our dinner tables.

Here is just a handful of the statistics, data and details I found regarding the development of meatless meat while doing research for this column.

  • U.S. sales of plant-based proteins totaled $553 million in 2012, according to Mintel, a market research group. This past year plant-based protein sales in the U.S. reached $670 million, according to a Bloomberg article citing research by Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association. To give you some perspective, the U.S. beef market is a $200 billion-plus industry, according to data compiled by John Nalivka, Sterling Marketing.
  • 14 percent of U.S. consumers, which is about 43 million people, regularly use plant-based alternatives such as almond milk, tofu, and veggie burgers, and 86 percent of these consumers do not consider themselves vegan or vegetarian, according to the NPD group, a global information company. (Flexitarian is the term commonly used for those of us who eat a mix of both plant and animal proteins.)
  • Development is underway of so-called “clean meat,” which is meat being grown from animal stem cells. It’s called clean, because no animals are slaughtered. There are half a dozen or so start-up companies based in Silicon Valley that are working on this development. Faunalytics, a nonprofit research company “dedicated to helping animals,” says its research of approximately 1,200 consumers shows that “66% of people would try clean meat, 53% would eat it as a replacement and 46% would be willing to buy it regularly.”
  • Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its stamp of approval to the Impossible Burger, an all-plant-based burger that “bleeds and sizzles just like meat.” Its key ingredient is a protein known as soy leghemoglobin. To date, the “burger” is being served in more than 1,000 restaurants around the country.
  • Mintel says its research shows that 31 percent of Americans now practice “meat-free days.”

I first realized how significant a deal “alternative proteins” had become when Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., invested in Beyond Meat in 2016. (The terms were not disclosed.) The company’s “burgers”—made from wheat, coconut and potato—are now sold in 19,000-plus U.S. stores.

“We’re talking about ourselves as a protein company,” Justin Whitmore, executive vice president of corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer for Tyson, told Fast Company staff writer Adele Peters for a story that published last December.

There’s no denying that many of the consumers we serve today are looking for alternatives to traditional protein resources. As a beef producer’s daughter, that reality stings. On the other hand, as the Editor of Farm Journal, I realize that many of you who grow crops might look at Americans’ embrace of plant-based proteins as a market opportunity that could sustain your farm’s future. That makes sense to me, and I’m onboard with the idea.

I’m also a proponent of animal agriculture. Fortunately, for those of us who love raising livestock and producing meat, the future’s not all doom and gloom. Mintert reports that “more than two thirds (67 percent) of Americans agree that meat is essential to a balanced diet, and just over half (51 percent) believe a meal is not complete without meat.”

I will continue to follow the issue of “meatless meat” in the months ahead. If you have thoughts on it, pro or con, drop me a line. I’d like to hear from you.