What’s next for plant-based meat alternatives and do they have a role in the future of protein

By Megan Stanton, associate director, South APAC, Mintel Food and Drink

It has been a tough couple of years for plant-based meat alternatives. A sector which was showing incredible growth as consumers raced to try these novelty products are facing challenging with increasing sales and retaining customers.

At the start, consumers were encouraged to try these meat alternatives as a healthier option to meat, while also tackling environmental issues of excess carbon emissions and land usage from animal protein. However, consumers are not repeat-purchasing these products as a result of long ingredient listings, concerns about over processing and poor delivery of taste. The impact of inflation and expensive price tags has further impacted the sales of meat alternatives as consumers try to balance their budget.

These lacklustre sales have resulted in some significant readjustments in the sector – Impossible Foods laid off 6% of its workforce in Oct. Meanwhile, Beyond Meat’s Q4 2023 revenues were down 20% and the company posted a loss of $366 million in 2022. JBS has exited its US-based plant foods business Planterra, and Maple Leaf Foods have cut their Greenleaf Foods plant-based division by 25% due to low demand.

Many commentators have stated that plant-based meat is currently in the “trough of disillusionment”, according to the Gartner Hype Cycle. The Gartner Hype Cycle illustrates the trajectory of new innovations and explains how new products initially experience a plethora of media attention and consumer interest until a peak is reached and then consumers begin to identify the shortcomings of the products. Mintel data has indicated that as many as 42% of US consumers do not currently eat plant-based meat alternatives and do not want to do so in the future.

Consumers have been clear that their issues with plant-based meat alternatives are taste, price, and concerns about over-processing. Only 30% of Thai consumers agreed that plant-based meat is tasty, while 33% of consumers in Singapore said they would eat more plant-based meat alternatives if they were less processed. Brands will thus need to address these concerns to re-engage consumers with plant-based meat.

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