While the above statement is not true, we can all likely agree that we all know someone who has said that they are going to to only eating plant based, or that they are now: vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian because of an article they read. And whatever the opinion of the article one thing that is true, is that how people eat is changing. Food chains are being disrupted. COVID has only served to accelerate that process as people seek to find more local and non-meat sources of protein.
Although, the traditional western Sunday roast dinner may still happen as a special treat, what is also coming to the Sunday dinner table (or any day of the week dinner table) as a special treat are meatless burgers that taste like meat. Breakfast is being replaced with a breakfast smoothie with your choice of plant based protein.
Alternative Proteins are Changing the Landscape
New meatless products, as well as alternative protein products are beginning to make an impact on more traditional food chains, in particular in the United States (US) where meat has always comprised a large part of people’s diets (McKinsey & Company).
We have all heard the arguments on why to go plant based or vegetarian. There tend to be 3 main camps:
- Animal Cruelty
- The Environment; and
When it comes to animal cruelty there is a large movement against the traditional large farming techniques used to raise: cattle, pigs and chicken to feed the masses. I think we can all say that we have seen those horrible videos of chickens in tiny cages on YouTube. The information age has meant that much of what was hidden before has come into the light and when it comes to large scale farming we tend not to like what we see. In many Asian and South Asian cultures the concept of Ahimsa, or non-harming (even in the way you eat) has always played a large role in the decisions people make around the type of food they consume.
Raising livestock contributes 18% of human-produced Greenhouse gas emissions globally (Dopelt et al. #). This is in addition to the many other environmental impacts it has, such as:
- Land and water degradation
- Biodiversity loss
- Acid rain (remember that thing from the 1980s it’s still around)
- Coral reef degradation; and
With respect to deforestation all we need to do is bring our attention to the burning of the Amazon rainforest this past year.
Despite the aforementioned animal cruelty and environmental impacts; the largest driver, in particular in the US that has led people to incorporate alternative proteins into their diets has been the idea (which is not unsupported) that alternative proteins are healthier. So for those portions of the population trying to lose weight, who want to get fit, and be healthy, or be perceived as being healthy and fit, alternative plant based proteins have become quite popular. This trend has been mirrored in social media where many influencers are promoting their alternative plant protein product of choice.
In the US health and fitness are the primary drivers to use alternative proteins, not the environment or animal cruelty (McKinsey & Company). The United Kingdom (UK) polls oppositely from the US, meaning animal cruelty and the environment are primary drivers over health and fitness. In Asia plant based proteins have formed the foundation of people’s diets for generations. Another interesting finding is that if there is some ecological benefit or a sustainability aspect associated with the alternative protein, people will tend to indulge in alternative proteins more readily (McKinsey & Company).
Where does that leave Plant-Based Proteins?
Meat is not likely going to disappear, especially not in the shorter term. However, there are some big changes coming as younger generations change the way they eat and the way they feed their children. For example, many younger parents will put a plant based protein in their toddlers morning smoothie to ensure they are getting the nutrition they need. I definitely never got that as a child.
Many people in western society have started decreasing the amount of traditional meat products they consume. Experts say that alternative plant-based proteins will become a “meaningful part of diets across the U.S., Western Europe, and emerging markets” within the next 10 years (McKinsey & Company). This is a big deal.
When I was growing up I remember everyone drank 2% or Homogenized milk (3.25%), then when I was in high school low fat was trending, so 1% and Skim Milk made an appearance. Now nut milks, or “mylks” are all the rage and grocery stores are filled with non-dairy options, for drinking and for your coffee. Researchers are predicting that alternative proteins will take a similar trajectory to alternative dairy (McKinsey & Company).
The larger role that alternative proteins will play in the global food chain is foreshadowed by some of the primary meat producers globally getting involved in the alternative protein game. This truly signifies that alternative proteins are not going anywhere. They are just on the verge of taking off.