- The alternative protein market including meat, eggs, dairy and seafood will reach $290 billion in value by 2035, according to new research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation (BHC).
- The study also concluded that alternative proteins will account for 11% of all protein products sold by 2035 as well. If both technological innovation and regulatory pathways are optimized, that total could reach 22% in the same timeframe.
- Price parity with conventional meat products could also be within reach. Products with soy, pea and other plant-based protein bases could achieve parity by 2023 while microorganism-based proteins developed from things like fungi and yeast could do so by 2025. Animal cell-based proteins could be economically comparable by 2032.
The alternative protein segment has come a long way since Impossible Foods debuted its first product, the Impossible Burger, in 2016. An ever-expanding roster of brands are launching into the space, restaurants are adding more options to the menu and investors are pouring billions of dollars into the sector.
Although consumers are showing clear interest in incorporating meatless products into their diets one of the main questions around alternative proteins has been whether the segment can reach a competitive stature with conventional meat. Considering that the global meat market is valued at roughly $1.2 trillion, according to Research and Markets, snagging 11% of that figure would be a substantial slice of the pie.
Some outlets like think tank RethinkX are predicting a major metamorphosis for the conventional meat production industry. COVID-19 has drawn existing food system challenges into sharp relief for consumers and many have taken a deeper look into agriculture’s impact on the environment. RethinkX predicts the demand for products derived from cattle will drop 70% by 2030 and that beef and dairy companies will see a 90% drop-off in revenue.
The pandemic seems to have added fuel to the alternative protein fire. Sales of plant-based meat products skyrocketed during the pandemic, exceeding sales of conventional meat products, according to Nielsen data. The Good Food Institute also concluded that grocery stores sold 231% more plant-based products in March 2020 compared to the year prior.
With $3.1 billion invested in alternative proteins in 2020 alone, according to The Good Food Institute, current estimations like the most recent one from BCG and BHC may be striking close to the bullseye. This figure more than doubled the $5.9 billion invested in the segment over the last 10 years. And with Singapore recently granting the world’s first regulatory approval for cell-based meat, the lab-grown segment is also rapidly gaining pace.
But other studies indicate that consumers aren’t quite ready to fork over their conventional meat products for good. The primary motivation behind trying plant-based products for most shoppers is curiosity, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC). The next largest group reported they were attempting to eat less meat — but not giving up meat entirely. Most consumers still opt for conventional meat, with 76% describing their eating habits similar to those of a flexitarian.
According to IFIC research, price and taste supersede sustainability at the checkout regardless of whether the product comes from plants or animals. If BCG is correct in its prediction that alternative proteins are approaching price parity in the coming years, then it could have a serious influence on consumer attitudes around the segment.
Major meat producers are already making moves to be prepared for a continued shift away from animal-based foods. Tyson Foods has released plant-based versions of its Jimmy Dean breakfast brand products. It also previously launched a burger containing a blend of beef and pea protein but discontinued the option due to poor sales, indicating that it will pursue 100% plant protein options for its Raised & Rooted label.
Hormel rolled out a non-GMO meat substitute under its Happy Little Plants label during 2019. Nestlé is developing its Sweet Earth plant-based line of products while expanding options for its brands like DiGiorno and Stouffer’s.