Meatless Meats Scaling for “Tectonic” Growth in Demand

September 9, 2021

New York Times:

In the fall of 2018, Jenny Goldfarb suddenly had a craving for a corned beef and pastrami sandwich.

For Ms. Goldfarb — who grew up in a New York Jewish deli family — it was the classic sandwich of her youth. But her yearning came with a hitch: She is now vegan.

So she started working with wheat protein, adding beets for a “meat” color, and dipping the mixture into different brines and spices. After a couple of months, she had come up with a vegan substitute. She took her vegan corned beef from her home in the San Fernando Valley to a Los Angeles deli, which placed an order for 50 pounds. She cried tears of joy in her car.

These days, Ms. Goldfarb is shipping orders for up to 50,000 pounds of her Unreal Deli corned beef, turkey and, most recently, steak slices to grocery stores all over the country.

“We just got the green light from Publix,” Ms. Goldfarb said. “They want the retail packages, but also they want to put it in their delis.”

Riding the waves of success of soy, oat and other alternatives to milk, as well as vegan burgers made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, a broad variety of plant-based foods are showing up on restaurant menus and in grocery store aisles. And now more companies — from small upstarts to established brands — are looking to get in on the action.

This summer, Panda Express started putting orange chicken made with Beyond Chicken from Beyond Meat on menus at some of its U.S. locations. Peet’s Coffee is selling a vegan breakfast sandwich made with mung-bean-based Just Egg. A New York City soft-serve shop, 16 Handles, collaborated with the popular Oatly drink to create a line of vegan sweets in flavors like chocolate, chai tea and iced latte. And the Long John Silver’s seafood chain tested plant-based crab cakes and fish fillets at five locations in California and Georgia this summer.

When Eleven Madison Park, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan, reopened in June after closing more than a year ago because of the pandemic, it did so with a new, plant-based menu.

“It started with a plant-based burger, but now plant-based options are becoming available in all sorts of categories,” said Marie Molde, a dietitian and trends analyst at the research firm Datassential. “We think plant-based chicken is really going to take off.”

Restaurants and grocery stores are responding to the changing demands of consumers who are moving away from eating meat. Sales of fresh fruit in grocery stores have climbed nearly 11 percent and fresh vegetables 13 percent since 2019, according to Nielsen IQ. While only a small percentage of Americans are true vegans or vegetarians — in a 2018 Gallup poll, 5 percent said they were vegetarians — that’s not the audience these new companies and products are chasing.

Rather, they are going after the taste buds of the vegan-curious or so-called flexitarians, a much larger segment of Americans who are seeking to reduce the amount of meat they eat. Some are shying away because of animal-cruelty concerns, while others say the environment or perceived health benefits are factors. (Whether the plant-based foods, many of which are highly processed, are healthier is subject to debate.)

“This is not for vegans only — that would be too tiny of a market,” said Mary McGovern, the chief executive of New Wave Foods, whose shrimp made from seaweed and plant proteins will be on restaurant menus this fall.

Ms. McGovern sees a much broader audience of millennials, flexitarians and others interested in trying new plant-based foods. “I’ve been in the food industry for 30 years, and I’ve not seen anything like the tectonic change we’re seeing in the market now,” she said.

Just a few years ago, plant-based burgers were a novelty. These days, the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger appear on roughly 5 percent of the menus of all restaurants around the country, and 71 percent of Americans have tried a plant-based burger or other meat alternative, Ms. Molde said.

In grocery stores, sales of alternatives to cheese, dairy milk and fresh meat have been growing at robust double-digit rates for at least the past two years, according to Nielsen IQ. Almond, oat and other nondairy products make up 14 percent of milk sales.

17 Responses to “Meatless Meats Scaling for “Tectonic” Growth in Demand”

  1. jimbills Says:

    The trend is at least partially price driven as well:

    The pandemic has affected supply chains currently, but longer term, climate change is likely to cause meat prices to rise further. There are a lot of reports of Californian ranchers culling their herds this year.

    I could see a future situation where real meat is a luxury item, higher priced for the wealthier, and most protein in the average person’s diet is plant-based or fabricated in some way.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “I could see a future situation where real meat is a luxury item, higher priced for the wealthier, and most protein in the average person’s diet is plant-based or fabricated in some way.”

      Yup. I see that as a dystopia based on class, not a desired outcome, however. I also see it as an ill-conceived movement toward highly-processed foods as opposed to consuming whole, natural foods.

      • jimbills Says:

        I think we already have one foot firmly in dystopia and eagerly stepping the other after it, with class distinctions widening by the day.

        You assume, incorrectly, that I want that, or everyone eating McProcessofauxfood. As I’ve said multiple times, I don’t mind meat itself. I do mind the excesses of the industry, of which there are far too many, but will not go into that on this post further, or your other responses below. We’ve gone over and over it before

  2. How much deforestation to grow soy are we seeing?

    Sent from my iPhone


    • jimbills Says:

      Less than what it would take to feed and accommodate the equivalent in livestock (soy is a common feed additive, plus the land needed to house the animals). It takes less land and resources to directly feed a human instead of feeding/growing the animal first, then the human. Understand? Or we could starve everyone if you prefer.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I don’t put it past any country (I’m looking at you, Brazil), to clear forest to grow soy. We can’t really prevent that. The US (which mostly deforests by wildfire these days) grows and exports a lot of soybean.

      Agriculturally speaking, soy is a crop that’s friendly to the soil, and is an excellent benefit in crop rotation. Getting it to replace or supplement corn is a benefit of its own. In areas where it could replace (or even just rotate with) cattle, it’s great.

      It’s harvested by machine rather than direct hand labor.

      Good ag data website:

  3. Anthony William O'brien Says:

    It is possible to raise cattle on land that you cannot grow crops on. Not all beef is the same in considering total resources used. But given the American desire for well marbled, grain fed beef then the above comparisons are absolutely valid.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      It is possible to raise cattle on land that you cannot grow crops on.

      I’m used to associating that with scenes of rocky Western scrubland, but there was some recent footage from one of the Ida storm-chasers in south Louisiana of a small herd of Black Angus on the highway eating the grass on the verge, and it reminded me that cattle can thrive in soggy environments that aren’t good for a lot of crops.

    • jimbills Says:

      Most deforestation is for cattle production, too.

      “Cattle ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon — the storied rainforest that produces oxygen for the world and modulates climate — are aggressively expanding their herds and willing to clear-cut the forest and burn what’s left to make way for pastures. As a result, they’ve become the single biggest driver of the Amazon’s deforestation, causing about 80 percent of it, according to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.”

      Soybeans do contribute to deforestation, however. But – how much of the world’s soybean crop is used to feed livestock?:

      “In fact, almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock, especially for beef, chicken, egg and dairy production (milk, cheeses, butter, yogurt, etc).”

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “It is possible to raise cattle on land that you cannot grow crops on”

      All US beef is grass-fed on rangelands of which 75% can be used for nothing else. Beef cattle attain 66% – 75% of their final weight eating only grass. Most are then finished on feed – which is made not only of grain, but also human plant agriculture by-products.

      Globally, 86% of what a cow eats is not edible by humans. There are no figures on US beef, but for what it is worth I would guess the figure is much higher than 86%.

      The popular impression that cows (and livestock) are “inefficient” is pretty close to being absurd when you get your hands dirty looking at the complicated symbiotic relationship between plant and livestock agriculture and how the waste products of each are used by the other.

      For example, here is what is fed to livestock in the US:

      Animal feeds

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” Some are shying away because of animal-cruelty concerns, while others say the environment or perceived health benefits are factors.”

    How valid are these concerns?

    Human crop agriculture mutilates billions of mammals every year. At least livestock are mainly harvested humanely.

    Human crop agriculture in the US is responsible for significantly more GHG emissions than the entire livestock industry, and meat is the minority product of what livestock produce. Livestock produce 63% of US total protein intake, 23% of total calorie intake, and a whole lot of our essential fatty acids.

    Deforestation for cattle ranching is a phenomenon of Brazil. Not the rest of the world.

    There is quite a controversy at present over the quality of the research that says that red meat is unhealthy to eat with regard to cardiac issues and cancer, with meta analyses published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that say that red meats are, in fact, part of a healthy diet:

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      From my perspective, as long as you
      – stop antibiotics abuse
      – give meat-workers decent wages and workplaces
      – cut back on diverting human food crops to feeding livestock
      – make slaughterhouses humane (a la Temple Grandin)
      I’m good with livestock as a food source.

      BTW, there’s a big difference between saying “it’s OK to eat red meat” and “you need red meat in your diet”.

  5. mboli Says:

    I’m perturbed that almond milk is taking over from soy milk.
    I don’t see that almond milk is preferable to soy: similar nutrition, doesn’t taste better or worse just different. I think this is just a random shift in tastes or fashion.
    But almonds have a darn sight more impact on the environment.

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