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Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: How Food and Beverage Entrepreneurs Can Take Advantage of the Rising Trend

There’s no doubt about it—plant-based meat alternatives are on the rise! That rise means new opportunities for businesses in the food and beverage industry. 

In the recent past, creating a plant-based version of meat that looked, smelled, and tasted like meat was an unheard of idea. Those looking to cut back on meat only had a few options to choose from, and none of them felt like a true meat substitute. 

But recent developments have changed things. Between the growth of the health and wellness industry and a focus on sustainability, a new opportunity has risen for plant-based meats. 

Between the rise of Impossible Burgers, mainstream restaurants bringing in meat alternatives, and major companies jumping on the bandwagon, it’s clear that there is a market for viable plant-based meats. 

New startups are taking advantage of that market, landing seed money and successfully launching plant-based alternatives. If you’re in the food and beverage industry, now is the time to lean into this growing trend and carve out a spot for yourself on the forefront. 

Read on to learn about the evolution of plant-based meat alternatives and what it means for the industry! 

The Demand for Plant-Based Meat Alternatives is Increasing

According to a recent Gallup poll, 25% of Americans are eating less meat than ever before! This is likely due to growing nutritional and environmental concerns. 

Some of them are strictly vegan or plant-based, others are vegetarians. But some are simply cutting back on meat. 

It’s that last category that is currently increasing the demand for meat substitutes. 

Those who have followed a vegetarian or vegan diet for years have learned to replace meat.  Many of them report that they don’t even miss eating meat. 

But those who are new to the diet and those who just want to eat less meat are looking for something different. They want to eat less meat, but they don’t want to give up the texture, the feel, and the taste. 

In other words, they want something that isn’t meat, but mimics it well. 

The History of Plant-Based Meats

While vegetarian diets have ancient roots, until recently, that idea—creating meat and animal products that tasted and felt like the real thing—seemed impossible. 

Still, the demand has existed for years, and many companies have tried to capitalize on it. 

As far back as the 1940s, John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s brand) tried to tackle the problem. With the help of a local Seventh-Day Adventist community, he created imitation burgers and hot dogs made of soy. He launched Worthington Foods, which eventually became Morningstar Farms. 

In 1985, Quorn hit the market, using mycoprotein (a fungus related to mushrooms) to attempt to replicate meat. While the company advertised their product as something indistinguishable from meat, in reality, it didn’t taste or feel much like it. 

A handful of other companies, like Boca, produced black-bean and vegetable-based meat alternatives over the years. But for the most part, the industry didn’t gain steam until just a few years ago. 

Everything changed in 2016 when Impossible Foods hit the market. The Impossible Burger wasn’t anything like what was being offered at the time. It was soy-based but incorporated the use of alliums and oils in a way that simply wasn’t being done. 

The result looked, felt, and tasted as close to meat as one could imagine a plant-based burger tasting. The company knew they had struck gold—they advertised their burger as “meat made from plants, for people who love meat.” 

The Game Has Changed

Seasoned meat alternative cooked on a stove with garlic in the background.
Soy-Based Meat Alternatives

Since the Impossible Burger came out, other companies have ramped up their efforts to do the same thing—produce viable plant-based meat alternatives that actually tasted like meat. They have tried to replicate the sizzle, the texture, the aroma—all the things that make meat desirable. 

Suddenly, there was a new possibility. People who loved meat, people who thought they could never give it up, had an option to do so. It wasn’t long before the company partnered with Burger King to bring their meat alternative to the masses. 

Other companies followed suit. After an attempt in 2015 that wasn’t quite as impressive as Impossible’s the following year, Beyond Meat released a new burger in 2019, one that was closer to meat than their original options, partnering with McDonalds to pilot the burger. 

Smaller startups have also taken advantage of the trend. Hooray Foods piloted their plant-based bacon in 2020. The brand recently raised more than $2 million dollars in seed money to expand their offerings. 

There’s no sign that the trend is going away, and companies are trying their best to meet the demand. 

The Challenges Still Exist

While some companies have come close to producing true meat imitations, scientists and researchers continue on the journey to perfect the art. 

It isn’t an easy task. To truly imitate meat, you need to match the color, the aroma, the taste, the texture, and even the way it cooks. 

Impossible came close, but the processes are still improving. Whoever can meet the challenge will grow, thrive, and succeed. 

Investors know this too. Motif Foodworks recently raised $226 million dollars with one goal in mind—to overcome the taste and texture barrier in creating meat alternatives.

Companies have also seen new possibilities for alternative animal proteins beyond just meat. Change Foods created a viable cheese alternative and, with a new round of startup money, plans to continue their product creation. 

NotMilk, a startup formed in 2019, claims to have cracked the code on milk, producing an alternative that looks and tastes like cow’s milk.    

It’s clear that the future of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives lies in creating something that doesn’t just replace the traditional options, but truly imitates them. 

What Does This Mean for the Food and Beverage Industry?

If you’re running a food and beverage business, this is one trend you can’t afford to ignore. The rising health awareness and environmental concerns aren’t going away. The demand for viable plant-based meat alternatives and dairy alternatives is only going to continue to rise. 

Right now is the ideal time to pivot and embrace this thriving trend. 

If you can get in on the ground floor and be one of the companies that meets the challenges and rises to the occasion, you’re likely to carve out a solid, successful niche for yourself! 

Still unsure about what niche to fill? Catch our post on finding the right niche for your product business

Maybe that idea you have in the back of your head could be the next big thing in the meat alternative world!