The Big Business of Plant-Based ‘FAKE’ Meat Substitutes & ‘REAL’ Sustainable Cultured Meat

Key Insights

– The global plant-based meat market is currently worth ~$4B and will continue to grow

– There are over 50 cultured meat start-ups in the world, with a combined valuation of over $300M as of 2020

– In 2020, Singapore became the first country to give regulatory approval for cultured chicken meat

– The HoReCa sector is the primary buyer for both plant-based and cultured meat

Plant-Based VS Cultured Meat

What is meat? The answer to this question is starting to change as the plant-based meat market grows and the cultured meat market releases its first products.

Plant-based meat companies have undergone amazing development during the last 10 to 5 years, coordinating with the rise in popularity of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. While many vegans are primarily concerned about animal welfare, eating less meat and animal products is also a very efficient way to fight against global warming. Raising livestock, particularly cattle, accounts for a large slice of greenhouse gas emissions, while other downsides include deforestation and wild animals’ extinction – to name a few.

With the public’s increasing concern for the health impact of eating meat, a new category of consumers has recently emerged. They want to eat delicious meat products, yet these products have to be healthy and environmentally-friendly. On top of that, giving up familiar dishes can be difficult and intimidating, so the meat-free alternatives still have to be familiar enough to be approachable.

These needs can be answered in two ways: through plant-based meat products that are highly similar to real meat or through growing cultured meat in a lab.

Cultured meat involves growing muscle tissue from animal stem cells and creating meat cuts in a lab. The initial cells are taken from a real animal without causing them harm. This makes it a great alternative to the cruelties of industrial farming.

While the initial cell growth medium was fetal cow blood (ew!), top companies have already developed alternative mediums that do not use animal products. This means that there are completely vegan ways to accomplish the same feats.

The main drawbacks of cultured meat are the high production costs and the long path towards governmental approval and regulation. While the funding for this new industry increases year after year and the companies further develop, it will be a while until cultured meat becomes widely available and starts to compete with traditional farm meat.

Who Are the Top Players in the Plant-Based Meat Market?

The entire international plant-based meat market has been valued at $3.3B in 2019, with predictions for continuing growth. US companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have skyrocketed their expansion during the last 4 years, managing to get their products into grocery stores and popular restaurant chains with little to no pushback from potential consumers.

Yet they are not the only players, with older companies such as Gardein or MorningStar Farms (from Kellogg’s) providing similar meat substitutes to the US market. On a global scale, the British VBites is distributing its products to 24 countries.

What sets these products apart from previous vegan alternatives is their research and development process, which can be said to be more scientific than culinary. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods both have plant-based meat that has been developed throughout many years inside university laboratories by professors rather than by chefs in the kitchen.Attaining their goals of creating plant meat that’s virtually indistinguishable from the ‘real deal’ came with the expectation that their products are carried in the meat aisle rather than next to other plant products. This helps to push stores and consumers to reconsider what ‘meat’ really is.

What Products Do Plant-Based Meat Companies Make?

Since they aim to replace meat completely, all of the presented companies have in their portfolio reinterpreted meat staples such as burger patties or sausages. 

In fact, since mincemeat or meat paste is easier to replicate than whole pieces, there are a lot of products based on them. This includes popular products such as meatballs, nuggets or deli slices. Other popular products are complete frozen meals, where the ‘meat’ chunks can blend with other ingredients and spices to gain a familiar flavor.

While Gardein and VBites have more products on the shelves, newcomers Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have decided to focus on the top choices. Beyond Meat sells burgers, sausages, meatballs and mince crumbles.

Impossible Foods, on the other hand, focuses exclusively on minced ‘beef’ and burgers available for retail, though recently they have developed ‘pork’ sausages now available at Starbucks.

An important milestone to jot down has been creating plant-based meat that can hold its own on a grill, especially for the US market. It even bleeds a little just like real meat does, although it’s just veggie juice.

This way, regardless of the type of meat they prefer, all guests can enjoy the hedonistic benefits stemming from your typical barbeque party. It also helps to make faux meat more indistinguishable from the products consumers are more familiar with.

What Are Plant-Based Meats Made From?

As their name implies, plant-based meats are made from plants. The main ingredient for most of the brands and products is soy, whether simple or mixed with other vegetables or grains. The products get their fat from vegetable oils and their flavor from additional veggies or spices. Beyond Meat avoids soy altogether, making its proteins out of peas, beans and brown rice. A common goal for companies that produce plant-based meals is to provide adequate nutritional value from plant-only protein. Their promise to the clients is that eating plant-based will not be detrimental to their health, but there’s a trade-off. While the plant ‘meat’ gets close to the protein level of beef and comes with no cholesterol, it also has 5 times the amount of sodium.

Yet the list of ingredients is not only based on people’s palates. Deliciousness of their products put aside, plant-based companies also need to include their commitment to the environment, as well as any potential health benefits into the recipe, period. Taking into account market trends, the key image that these companies need to promote is one of ‘fairness’: fair to the animals, fair to the Earth, and especially fair to your health.Due to this, some of them are against using palm oil, GMOs or artificial preservatives. Others try to appeal to smaller niches like the gluten-free community and most of them add vitamins and minerals to make their products ‘healthy’. However and to a surprise to no one, plain vegetables are still healthier than plant-based meat.

When Will We Eat Cultured Meat?

If you are in Singapore, the answer might be: right now! The country has just given the first regulatory approval in the world for Eat Just’s cultured chicken. It is served at Leonie’s, a restaurant belonging to the private-membership club called ‘1880’.

Several companies have already announced product launches as soon as 2021, yet it will probably take a couple years for cultured meat to sit ‘comfortably’ next to farm meat in the aisle. For an industry that has no products on the market, the interest in cultured meat companies and their growth has been incredible.There are over 50 cultured meat start-ups in the world and they have attracted at least $300M funding in 2020 alone. About 8 of them have built pilot production sites, trying to produce cultured meat on a large scale. Pretty soon, when people look at a vegan menu, they will no longer be looking for a diet of cooked vegetables, grilled mushrooms and other common vegan treats, but will be expecting plant based meat dishes.

Top players include US-based Memphis Meats, Blue Nalu and Finless Foods, Dutch Mosa Meat and Israeli Aleph Farms. The companies with the most funding (Memphis Meats and Mosa Meat) were expected to be the first to release a product, yet Eat Just has claimed its high-cost cultured chicken has been market-ready since 2018, awaiting for US regulation ever since.

In this highly dynamic market, it is still early to tell who will win the race to create a product that can stand up against farm meat, both quality and price-wise.

Future Opportunities

There might be a large number of people who would just follow the standard vegan dishes of fruits and vegetables. People are delighted to offer these vegan foods like grilled jackfruit or BBQ vegetable kabobs to their families, but as the plant-based and cultured meat markets keep growing, the consumers’ habits change as well. Catering to this new category of consumers will give birth to new dining experiences, staged around trying novel plant-based or cultured meat dishes.

Meanwhile, the cultured meat industry is estimated to become worth $214M in 2025 and is expected to reach $593M by 2032. This will create ample investment opportunities, enabling the development of adjacent technologies as well.

And whether or not cultured meat will come out ahead against plant-based meat and how, it remains to be seen in the upcoming years.