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The Future of Sustainable Meat Alternatives: From Plant-based to Cruelty-Free to Cultured Meat

Vegetarian sandwich with meat alternatives served on a platter.

Is the demand for sustainable meat alternatives changing the landscape of food as we know it? 

It’s impossible to deny the popularity of meat. Only 2% of Americans choose to follow a vegetarian diet (and for vegans, the number is even lower.) 

In fact, in 2018, the average American ate more than 220 pounds of meat—more than ever before. 

But between then and now, a shift had started happening. Americans are reporting that they are eating less meat than ever before. 25% of Americans in a recent Gallup poll stated that they were deliberately cutting back on meat! 

Why? It’s partially due to an increase in health awareness. (Diets heavy in meat are linked to heart disease, high cholesterol, and other long-term health issues. With the rise of wellness understanding, people are paying attention to their diets and health more than ever before.)

However, meat doesn’t just come with potential health drawbacks. It also comes with an environmental impact that young people in particular want to avoid. 

When consumer behavior changes, businesses have opportunities. And this change in behavior has offered companies a chance to step in and create sustainable meat alternatives that can reduce harmful impact on the planet and fill customer demand. 

Why Do We Need Sustainable Meat Alternatives?

The meat industry as we know is harmful to the environment. In a world where we’re struggling to feed every human on the planet, meat takes up a lot of real estate. Over 25% of farmland in the world is dedicated to raising crops to feed farm animals. That means that without the meat industry, we could use 75% less land. 

On top of that, diets that contain meat take more water, more energy, and contribute to climate change. 

We’ve known for some time that plant-based diets are better for the environment. But we’re just now seeing a big push for alternatives. Why?

The answer is generational. In recent years, we’ve come to understand more about our impact on the environment. Younger people are concerned about the future of the planet. 

As Gen Z has entered the consumer market, that concern is starting to play a hand in the economy. 87% of Gen Z reports being concerned about the environment. 

Sustainability is playing a role in virtually every industry—from beauty, where companies are now expected to use recyclable packaging and sustainable practices, to investing, where environmental social governance is growing. 

The food industry is no exception. Younger generations are ready for alternatives—meat that doesn’t destroy the environment. 

Companies have shown that they are ready to shift and meet the changing demand. 

Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

One of the most popular options for creating sustainable meat alternatives lies in plant-based meats. 

Since 2015, plant-based meat alternatives have changed drastically. Prior to that, black-bean patties and mycoprotein options offered a way for consumers to replace meat in their diets. 

But when Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods unveiled new meat alternatives that were created with meat-lovers in mind, the game changed. 

The future of plant-based meat isn’t meat alternatives, it’s meat imitation. These plant-based meat alternatives use less farmland and water than real meat, and they don’t produce the high levels of methane associated with beef and dairy farms. 

Companies Leading the Way for Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

Several companies are leading the way in producing viable plant-based meat alternatives that satisfy meat-lovers and vegetarians alike while lowering the environmental impact. 

An Impossible Burger patty produces 12 times less greenhouse gas emissions, 50 times less water use, and 20 times less land use than a hamburger patty. 

The Protein Brewery produced a burger using microbial fermentation—creating their own fungus for a meat alternative. The result was a burger high in nutritional value but using 5% of the water and 1% of the land that traditional burgers use, with only 3% of the carbon emissions. 

Motif Foodworks recently raised $226 million dollars in seed money for their work on creating meat alternatives that matched the taste and texture of traditional meat. 

Change Foods is known for their strides in creating dairy-free cheese using microbes. 

NotMilk produces a milk alternative different from oat, almond, coconut, rice, or soy options. Their product mimics the taste and texture of cow’s milk.   

As the trend continues to grow, even more companies are diving in to meet the demand and take advantage of consumer interest. The vegan food industry is expected to grow 9.6% by 2025. 

Cultured Meat

But plant-based meats are not the only environmentally-friendly meat options that have gained interest. 

Cultured meat is created from tissue of cows, removed in a harmless and humane way. The tissue is then grown in a lab, producing meat that is essentially indistinguishable from traditional meat—but without the environmental concerns and animal harm. 

This alternative provides an interesting option—it is meat, virtually identical to the meats that we already consume. But lab creation offers not just a method for reducing environmental impact, but also a world of possibilities.  

In the future, could we manufacture meat in a way that doesn’t negatively impact health? Could meat become better for you? The future for cultured meat is wide open. 

Companies Leading the Way for Cultured Meat

Eat Just, a California startup, debuted a restaurant in Singapore offering lab-grown chicken. While their products won’t be available commercially for years, they are leading the charge and showing that cultured meat is viable. 

New Age Meats has created a sausage alternative using 10% lab-grown meat and 90% plant-based substitute, solidifying the idea of melding together two viable meatless options. 

Wild Type creates cell-cultivated salmon and sushi, offering a potential solution to overfishing and cruelty in the seafood industry. 

The cultured meat market is expected to be worth $2,788.1 million by 2030

Upcycled Meat Alternatives

Other companies are taking a different approach to creating sustainable meat alternatives. They believe that the answer lies in using food waste to create meat alternatives, battling two major food problems at once. 

They take byproducts from food processing plants, which would otherwise be thrown out, and use those to create alternative meats. 

Companies Leading the Way for Upcycled Meat

Tempeh Mince was formed from the Dutch food brand Shouten, which creates tempeh cubes and blocks. The company now uses their own byproducts to create the new line, potentially reducing their own waste and producing sustainable meat alternatives. 

A new Nordic startup, Mycorena, raised $9 million in seed money, for their business. They take other company’s otherwise-wasted byproducts and use them to create promyc, a meat alternative similar to tofu that can be used in patties, nuggets, or whole-cuts. 

The upcycled meat options are very new to the market, with the first viable options popping up in 2020 and 2021. But their unique solution to two existing problems—sustainability and waste—makes this idea an interesting one to watch. 

What’s Next for Sustainable Meat Alternatives?

The sustainable meat alternative industry is moving so fast, it’s hard to know what’s coming next. One thing we do know for sure is that major mainstream companies are taking note. 

Chanel and Adidas both recently invested large sums of money into sustainable farming projects. Major meat companies, like Tyson and Hormel, have put money into their own alternative meat creations, hoping to join the ranks of Impossible and Beyond Meat. 

More and more businesses are looking to meet the growing demand and offer cruelty-free and sustainable meat alternatives. 

If you run a business in the food and beverage industry, it’s time to take a closer look at these trends. Sustainability is no longer a bonus perk for food and beverage companies—it’s something consumers absolutely expect. 

Figure out what you can do to jump in on sustainability! 
Interested in learning more about meat alternatives? Check out our post on the evolution of plant-based meat next!

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