In recent times, some huge multinationals that deal with the production and distribution of meat have decided to significantly increase the production of the so-called “vegetable meat”, such as – but not limited to – the “fake hamburgers”. That is, those foods that resemble meat in appearance, consistency and sometimes taste, but which are entirely plant-based. The Brazilian JBS and the American Tyson Food Inc., the first and second multinational in the world in the meat sector, did it in a few weeks.
For these companies, proposing meat substitute products is not only an opportunity to expand their market but it is also a matter of survival: the consumption and demand for plant-based meat substitutes are growing rapidly, and the importance of reducing animal derivatives in their diets is perceived by more and more people around the world. Livestock farming is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of climate change. The multinationals of the meat are realizing the irreversibility of these habits and the spread of these sensitivities, and are afraid of falling behind companies that already produce exclusively vegetable products that resemble meat, a new and still relatively small market, but in strong expansion.
A few weeks ago Brazilian company JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, announced that it will take over the Dutch plant products company Vivera BV, which has a line of 50 items sold in 25 European countries, for € 341 million. On Monday, May 3, the US multinational Tyson Food Inc., the world’s second largest meat producer, instead introduced its line of plant-based products, including a burger, a type of frankfurter and a type of sausage that do not contain ingredients of animal origin, therefore suitable for vegan people.
Already two years ago, the American multinational Kellogg had expanded its line of products for vegetarians and vegans by starting to produce vegetable meat under the MorningStar Farms brand and so did Hormel Foods, known above all for Spam and other types of canned or frozen meat. ; last September, Hormel also started producing soy-based vegetable salami to replace one of the most popular pizza ingredients in the United States (pizza “pepperoni“Is the one with spicy salami, in fact).
Both JBS and Tyson had started to break into the vegetable meat market in 2019 without too much success, but the latest plans to increase production are more structured. If at first the beef industries had tried to obstruct the producers of meat of vegetable origin by demanding that they not use the word “meat” to market their products, arguing that it could confuse consumers, now things have changed.
Vegetable meat can be many different things, but the one on which the major and most recent efforts of multinationals are focusing has an appearance, taste and aroma very similar to those of real meat, with the difference that for its production they are use far fewer environmental resources. For example, Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat – a major producer – is made from wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and heme.heme”), An organic compound that contains iron and is found in the hemoglobin of the blood.
An Impossible Foods burger is made by emitting 87 percent less greenhouse gases than a beef burger, using 75 percent less water and 95 percent less land. All of this, of course, without the intensive breeding with which the animals destined for the food industry have grown up. Vegetable meat is therefore a product that allows you to take proteins and limit the consumption of meat derived from intensive farming, and at the same time help to contain consumption and related emissions.
In the United States, vegetable meat can be found almost everywhere, from supermarkets to fast food chains such as Burger King and McDonald’s, which in more recent times have also begun to introduce it in Italy, where however it can still be difficult to find it on the market. Its consumption is constantly growing, especially in Western countries.
As estimated by the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit organization, in 2020 more than half of American households bought plant-based products that mimic animal-based ones and 18 percent of them (about 23 million households) ) bought vegetable meat at least once, 4 percent more than the previous year.
According to the recent report by the Plant Based Food Association, one of the largest groups supporting the consumption of alternative products to meat, in 2020 sales of vegetable meat in the United States increased by 45 percent compared to 2019, reaching an equal turnover. to 1 billion and 400 million dollars (about 1 billion and 115 million euros) against 962 million dollars in 2019 (800 million euros). Additionally, research from the consulting firm Kearney, cited by Bloomberg, estimated that in 2040 the vegetable meat market will represent a quarter of the real meat market.
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Tyson Foods vice president of “alternative proteins”, David Ervin, told a Bloomberg that the company has seen “incredible growth” in its plant products and yet it knows it has “acted a lot on the surface”. Now Tyson’s goal is to create products that taste like real meat above all to convince curious customers to try them and further expand the audience of consumers, expanding both in the European market and in that of Southeast Asia and Australia.
For Gilberto Tomazoni, CEO of JBS, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats have started in an advantageous position, but this is «the beginning of a long-term race». In 2020, sales of Ozo-branded JBS plant-based products in the United States increased by 300 percent, and according to Tomazoni, with the acquisition of Vivera, the company will become the third-largest producer of plant-based alternatives to meat in Europe.
According to Dennis Woodside, president of Impossible Foods, the competition is more between vegetable meat and real meat, which is cheaper than plant-based products, which has sometimes led to companies like Impossible Foods. to lower prices.
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A major problem is that, for ethical reasons, some vegan or vegetarian people may not want to buy plant-based products from meat multinationals, explained Kory Zelickson, head of Canadian online vegan supermarket Vejii. At the same time, according to Zelickson, consumers should “look at the big picture” of the situation and better understand the consequences of their choices, as well as the decisions of meat producers.
In any case, the Good Food Institute has shown that in 2020 the vegetable protein market has raised investments of over 3.1 billion dollars (about 2 billion and 600 million euros): three times more than what it had been harvest in 2019 and four and a half times more than in 2018. According to GFI investment expert Sharyn Murray, this shows that more and more entrepreneurs “see the potential for success of alternative proteins and at the same time recognize their positive impact. on food sustainability and global well-being “, also useful in order to achieve so-called” zero emissions “by 2050, as envisaged by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.