Beyond and Impossible Plant Meats – AH Industry may need to choose right “meaty” side

Disrupt or be disrupted – this modern mantra is playing, for the moment to perfection, in animal protein industry with incumbent “plant / chemical” meat / culture meat companies making inroads and gaining consumer attention and wallet share from “real animal protein” producers, leaving them largely clueless so far, on how to respond.

The term disruption or more specifically, disruptive innovation is defined as a process where an inexpensive (in our case, more expensive and unapproved esp. culture meat – fuel for fightback) new product is launched and gradually overtakes the existing market leaders.

While its only nascent stages for the reach and adoption of plant / chemical meats, worryingly enough for Animal Health Care Industry to which we belong, – a few of large, animal meat producers (e.g. Tyson Foods, Smithfield and Purdue Farms) have chosen to actually join the trend rather than take it head on and this trend may actually have implications for Animal Health Care Industry in the long term.

While disruption is an easy topic to chat about and the innovations that cause it seem like common sense once they gain popularity, few tasks are more difficult or require greater dedication than disrupting an already stagnating industry.

Like it or not animal protein industry surely was stagnating a bit for past decade esp in developed countries with minimal efforts to innovate and promote health and nutrition benefits to the millennials who get easily swayed by sleek marketing campaigns.

And swayed they have been as is visible in the valuations some of these start ups have notched in relatively short time, sample a few of leading companies:

Beyond Meat: Started in 2009; Current Market Cap: USD 7.83 Billion (13th of Nov 2020)

Impossible Foods: Started in 2011; Current Market Cap: USD 4.03 Billion (Fund Raise: Aug 2020)

Impressive growth rate – a cause for concern

With increasing availability and growing acceptance by mainstream consumers, faux meat / plant meat alternatives are a fastest growing category at key supermarket chains. As per data from The Good Food Initiative – grocery sales of plant based meats that replace animal proteins have grown at 11% in the last year (2019 over 2018) and cumulatively 29% in last 2 years to reach $ 5.0 Billion in 2019.

But with plant-based burgers, sausages and chicken increasingly popular and available in fast-food restaurants and grocery stores across the United States, a new group of companies has started making meatless meat: the food conglomerates and meat producers that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods originally set out to disrupt.

In recent months, major food companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have rolled out their own meat alternatives, filling supermarket shelves with plant-based burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets.

This trend spells bad news for already battered Food Animals Segment – reeling partly under the onslaught of ASF in swine segment and recurrence of Avian Influenza in certain markets in poultry segment. Could this also hasten the process of Companion Animals overtaking the Food Animals segment in global revenue share.

Time for AH Industry to take side

Starting largely as alternatives to animal meat products for vegans and vegetarians, and supposedly leaving lesser environmental footprints, plant meats are being adopted in larger numbers with expansions across geographies as new growth areas. As per a report in The New York Times, analysts estimate that the market for lab culture meats and plant-based meat alternatives may hit $85 billion by 2030.

These impressive growth rates may or may not pan out in future, but this should already be a cause of concern not only for the animal meat producers but also for Animal Health Care industry on the prospects of a potential shrink in its target market of food animals. Animal Health Care industry may sooner or later will have to take a side and maybe collaborate with Meat Producers in propagating real health benefits of consuming animal proteins and milk and milk products

Focus on Health in Covid-19 times

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presents just the opportunity that meat producers may have hoped for. As has repeatedly been shown in multiple research publications post Covid-19 spread, people across countries with better metabolic health and immune status have been less impacted by severity of Covid symptoms.

Focus all around, has shifted to supporting and strengthening the individual immune system till safe and efficacious (if possible) vaccines are available – this time should be seized upon by meat producers to promote unique nutrient profiles and real health benefits of real deal / real meats. Vit B12, Vit D and Zinc – all essential element of health, are abundantly available in highly bioavailable form in animal meats compared to relatively lesser bioavailable, synthetic supplements in plant meat alternatives.

88% of Americans have poor / sub-optimal metabolic health largely on account of excessive availability and consumption of highly processed foods. A cursory look at list of ingredients of plant meat alternatives could be more than handy in this fight against fake / faux meat alternatives.

Devil really is in detail

Made entirely out of processed ingredients with very high levels of sodium and sat fats and fewer whole foods including many isolated proteins from soy, pea and leghemoglobin from soya – plant meat alternatives have a lot to explain to gain long term credibility.

It takes anywhere from 21 ingredients (Impossible Burgers) to 23 ingredients for Pure Farmlands’s Burger (includes sugar) to 19 ingredients for Beyond Burger of Beyond Meat – it only remains to be seen the deleterious effects of long term usage of these products on precious human health.

Out goes through the window the claim on sustainable agricultural practices as common ingredients of alternate plant meat products such as Soya, Rice and Maize are as industrialized or even more, than industrial animal farming. Concerns also remain on the usage of GMO yeast and Soya, genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate – as key ingredients in plant burgers.

While it certainly is a need of hour for big meat producers to re-earn consumer trust through increased animal welfare measures and focus on regenerative animal farming so as to increase biodiversity, improve soil health and reduce impact of green house gases.

Animal HealthCare industry may soon have to choose to align on the right side of nutrition and promise of good human health – as animal meat has been consumed since times immemorial. Time to talk about and propagate more Blue Zones

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