How cultured meat and vegan alternatives will shake up the food industry

A new report predicts people will largely eat lab-grown meat or alternatives that mimic meat by 2040, with a number of benefits beyond the environment.

17 June 2019
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image credit: Getty Images

Cultured meat and plant-based products that look and taste like the real thing are set to entirely disrupt the conventional meat industry in the next 20 years, according to a new report.

It suggests slaughtered animals will become the minority, with 60% of the meat people eat in 2040 coming from either vats in labs – accounting for 35% of the market – or vegan alternatives that mimic their meat counterparts (25%), such as products like Beyond Burger. Currently, the conventional meat industry is worth £785bn a year.

Looking to the more immediate future, the report, compiled by global consultancy firm AT Kearney and based on expert interviews, predicts that around one third of the global meat supply will come from these new products in the next 10 years.

“The shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is undeniable, with many consumers cutting down on their meat consumption as a result of becoming more conscious towards the environment and animal welfare,” explained AT Kearney partner Carsten Gerhardt.

Food safety and manipulating products to be healthier

While the large-scale livestock industry is viewed by many as an unnecessary evil, according to the report, lab-grown meat and vegan alternatives offer advantages that are better for the environment.

Around half of the world’s crops are fed to livestock, but only 15% of the plant calories end up being eaten by humans as meat, yet cultured meat and vegan replacements retain about 75% of their input calories, AT Kearney’s data found.

But more environmentally friendly methods are not the only advantage, said the report.

Products can be specifically designed for consumer needs. For example, manufacturers and brands have the opportunity to customise the muscle-fat-nutrient ratio of the meat by replacing fatty acids with omega and adding nutrients.

“Also, the shelf life is longer, and less cooling is required for transportation since no bacteria, including salmonella or E. coli, foster the degradation process,” explained the research.

“Additionally, the new products don’t have epidemic risks, for example, mad cow disease or bird flu, as they are part of a production process which is subject to strong quality management requirements. This circumstance will lead to a much higher security in meat supply chains.”

However, while novel vegan meat replacements will show strong growth until 2030, cultured meat will dominate in the long term, as any consumer uneasiness will be overcome because it mimics the taste and feel of the real thing.

“For passionate meat eaters, the predicted rise of cultured meat products means that they still get to enjoy the same diet they always have, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached,” Gerhardt added. “For true disruption of the global meat market to occur beyond 2030, early investment is needed for supply chains, production facilities and go-to-market channels for these meat alternatives to succeed.”

Other animal alternatives could arrive earlier

AT Kearney estimated global investment in alternatives to meat in the form of burgers, eggs and other products has already reached $1bn.

Strong brands will be particularly important for rapid and widespread distribution, especially with a focus on ethical, health, and wellness aspects.

It’s not just the meat market that is set to be interrupted either – and this impact could be felt even sooner, the report noted.

“Several companies are focusing on novel plant-based and cultured seafood, leather, silk, egg white, milk, gelatin, and even horn,” it said. “As the structures of cultured milk, egg white, gelatin, and leather are not as complex as meat, these products might hit the market even earlier than cultured meat.”

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