Deloitte report outlines future challenges of plant-based meat sector20 Oct 2022
After years of growth, positive press and some brave predictions, the alternative meat category is suffering from falling sales and consumer apathy, according to a recent report by Deloitte.
The report also discusses a ‘limited’ addressable market, consumer unwillingness to pay a price premium, and questionable health benefits, as reasons for the current inertia.
“Plant-based alternative meat producers should explore ways to expand the addressable market, bring down relative costs, and create formulations that provide health benefits while maintaining taste,” the report’s authors recommend.
“No easy task, but until then, a return to sustained double-digit growth could be hard to realize.”
However, the report does concede that the sector’s current position compares previous growth years, making it a tough point of comparison.
And added to supply chain issues affecting many industries, rumours of its demise may well have been greatly exaggerated.
Alternative meat industry highs and lows
There has certainly been signs of confidence in the sector’s growth, particularly in the fast-food sector.
At the start of this year, KFC introduced a meatless chicken product in partnership with vegan brand Beyond Meat to over 4,000 of its branches scattered throughout the US.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Chipotle launched a plant-based chorizo option in the US, while Pizza Hut made available two pizzas topped with Beyond Meat’s Italian sausage nationwide in 2020.
“Every one of our pieces of research suggests plant-based diets will continue to grow and grow,” said Kevin Hochman, president of KFC US.
“Will there be blips when there’s an onset of a pandemic? Of course. We view this as a long-term trend.”
Pandemic could be a help or hindrance
Hochman raises a valid point of the pandemic that has clearly put a dent in not just business decisions but consumer thinking.
In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, research analysts IRI noted that sector growth had slowed down, with refrigerated plant-based meat sales down 6.6% in November 2021 from the year before, though sales were nearly 30% higher than November 2019.
However, in a report by Kyle Gaan, a research analyst at The Good Food Institute, the GFI highlighted a shift in consumer perceptions of plant-based meat during the pandemic.
Gaan referenced a Datassential study that found 47% of US consumers were willing to switch to eating more plant-based meat in the event Covid-19 led to meat shortages.
“Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to switch to eating more plant-based meat, at 62% and 56%, respectively,” Gann wrote.
“When presented with a scenario in which there were no beef burgers available at a restaurant, 12% of consumers reported that they would order a plant-based burger.”
© AdobeStock/Mila Naumova
Could the past be a reliable indicator?
One has to look at the sector, pre-pandemic to understand its health and as a future predictor of its success. For a relatively young industry composed of start-ups and untested innovation, it appeared to be holding its own.
Statistics from SPINS and The Good Food Institute, dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 38% from 2017 to 2019.
Meanwhile, a report compiled by UBS in the summer of 2019 - months before the pandemic — predicted this swift growth would continue, ballooning to around 18.5 times bigger to become an $85 billion industry by 2030.
“I think the pandemic was net positive on plant-based growth since consumers have been made hyperaware of issues within meat supply chains and meat itself,” said Kimberlie Le, CEO and cofounder of Prime Roots, a plant-based meat firm “They’ve gotten the opportunity to cook and try new plant-based products.”
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