Navigating the ebb and flow of the plant-based market
In an era where health and environmental consciousness reign supreme, the culinary landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Dietary choices are no longer mere routines; they have become powerful statements reflecting our concern for personal well-being and the planet’s welfare.
One such transformation that has captured the spotlight is the rise of plant-based diets including the proliferation of alternative protein meat substitutes.
The journey of plant-based eating began with lofty promises of healthier living and a lighter ecological footprint. Meat substitutes, once hailed as the holy grail of conscientious consumption, have experienced their share of ups and downs in the limelight.
The allure of products like Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger captivated a community of conscious consumers seeking better choices for their bodies and the environment. The proliferation of plant-based foods has been a sensation, infiltrating fast-food chains, restaurant menus, and grocery stores worldwide.
A staggering projection by Precedence Research sets the size of the global plant-based food market at $136.7 billion (US$87.2 billion) by 2032, up from $62 billion (US$39.8 billion) in 2022, underscoring the movement’s trajectory. In the Australian landscape, in its Protein Roadmap, CSIRO projects the plant-based protein industry will reach $9 billion by 2030.
Recent controversies however have unveiled the dark side of some meat alternatives – heavy processing and unhealthy additives – in the endeavour to replicate the taste and texture of meat. The employment of genetically engineered yeast cultures to mimic heme-protein raises questions about the intersection of technology and nature.
Moreover, the potential allergenicity of plant proteins like soy, wheat, and pea adds another layer of complexity for consumers with specific dietary needs. Some consumers even expressing concerns that certain kinds of plant proteins (especially those from soy) are obtained from genetically modified (GMO) sources.
At present, many plant-based meat-replacement choices hold a notable price premium across various categories. A research collaboration between Good Food Institute (GFI) and Mindlab explored the influence of price on purchase intent and a consumers’ willingness to pay more for plant-based items. When directly questioned, price placed second to taste as the most crucial element influencing their purchase decision.
GFI reports that $22 billion (US$14.2 billion) dollars of private capital has been invested into the alternative protein sector over the past decade, with many mainstream protein manufacturers investing themselves.
While the market appears today to be going through a shakedown or recalibration, with companies like Beyond Meat reporting a 35 per cent downturn in sales, it is anticipated that the market will continue to evolve.