The market for alternative protein: Pea protein, cultured meat, and more

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In countries with economic wealth, there is growing consumer awareness of, and interest in, alternative proteins. Meat has been the main source of protein in developed markets for years, and there has been an increased appetite for traditional protein in developing markets in recent years. However, changing consumer behavior and interest in alternative-protein sources—due in part to health and environmental concerns as well as animal welfare—have made way for growth in the alternative-proteins market.

Several entrants in the alternative-protein space are already rolling out new technologies and ingredients, and some are attempting to solidify their place in the market. Innovative food companies are able to mirror the customer experience of eating meat to a much higher degree. This is paralleled with strong social media marketing campaigns to gain traction for their products. Beyond Meat recently had a high-performing IPO, which signaled to investors that there is opportunity ahead in the alternative-proteins market. 1 1. Mike Murphy, “Beyond Meat soars 163% in biggest-popping U.S. IPO since 2000,” MarketWatch, May 5, 2019, marketwatch.com. And numerous fast-food chains announced deals with alternative-protein producers to offer vegetarian options of popular menu items. 2 2. Nathaniel Popper, “Behold the beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’,” New York Times, April 1, 2019, nytimes.com; and Sigal Samuel, “Del Taco’s newest ‘meat’ taco is 100% meatless,” Vox, April 15, 2019, vox.com.

This emerging shift could explain why even though aggregate consumption of meat-based proteins worldwide is increasing, the overall growth rate is expected to decline by half. Plant-based food (the largest source of alternative protein) sales rose 17 percent in 2018 3 3. “Plant-based market overview,” The Good Food Institute, 2018, gfi.org. and the use of alternative protein as a food ingredient in consumer products is predicted to continue growing. Currently, the market base for alternative protein is approximately $2.2 billion compared with a global meat market of approximately $1.7 trillion, 4 4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, June 3, 2019, fao.org. making the growth rate of the alternative proteins marginal to the overall meat market. While there is significant headroom for consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies and food manufacturers in the alternative-proteins market, many don’t have the necessary production capabilities to capture this market opportunity, nor do they know where to focus their efforts.

In response to these market forces and consumer concerns, industry leaders are rolling out a range of products and ingredients using different plant-based proteins (soy, pea), new animal sources (insects), and biotechnological innovations (cultured meat or fungal protein). In fact, a 2015 McKinsey survey of dairy-industry professionals showed that 21 percent of respondents believe the nondairy alternatives market, including plant protein, is “sizable and will continue to grow.” 5 5. “A winning growth formula for dairy: Perspectives from McKinsey & Company,” International Dairy Foods Association, January 23, 2019, idfa.org.

For CPG companies and food manufacturers to win market share in this fast-growing segment over the long term, they must invest in the capabilities required to develop and manufacture the most promising alternative-protein products.

Evolving consumer and market trends

Interest in alternative protein grew gradually up to and including 2007, only accelerating over the past decade. Several factors contributed to this evolution: increased consumer interest in health, price, and ethical considerations (such as where meat is sourced from and animal welfare) around different types of protein. Global populations and ethnic communities vary significantly in the amount and types of meat consumed. In the Middle East and much of Asia–Pacific, for example, most protein comes from legumes and seafood, 6 6. Ahmed, Lorch, Ong, and Wolfgram, “How the global supply landscape for meat protein will…

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