Opinion |: Declining demand for plant-based meats suggests that hype has overtaken reality

Opinion |: Declining demand for plant-based meats suggests that hype has overtaken reality


The future of plant-based meat was supposed to be cooked to perfection. Last years, corporate and venture capital funds poured into space. Fastfood giants such as KFC and Burger King race to roll offers. The meme stock crowd rallied around Beyond the meat. Sales were increasing. It will appeal to vegans who are missing meat. Even better, it may find a following among meat eaters looking to cut back.

It is now clear that the hype has overtaken the sometimes less than palatable reality. Selling plant-based meats in the United States are down by more than 10 percent compared to this time last year. The problem is fundamental. the problems fake meat was meant to solve, from the climate impact of industrial agriculture to the health effects of meat, are all too real, but the solution it offers appeals to far fewer consumers than expected.

The truth, of course, is that we eat not just for nourishment, but for pleasure. Meat gives a sly, playful, delicious experience that is impossible to reproduce today.

When I asked around over the course of a few weeks, I discovered a few fans of processed meat substitutes. “Too chewy,” said one friend. “Mist,” said another. My eldest son made a face. The only person I could find who claimed it tasted authentic admitted that he hadn’t actually tasted the real thing in over 20 years. Some people with vegetarian-leaning diets told me they didn’t mind it and were happy to have it as an option on the fast food menu, while others told me they enjoyed it as a substitute for breakfast meats like sausage and bacon. : But few people found plant-based meat to be really enjoyable.

Experts, everyone from Wall Street short sellers to market researchers, said that, at least for now, many fake meat sales appeared to be test-driving it to people. “I think the big demand was that people tried it once,” short-shorts salesman Jim Chanos said when I called him to ask how the once-promising Beyond Meat became one of the most popular shorts ever. He mentioned that the company is “unprofitable”. When I asked him what he thought of the proposals, he replied:

And health-wise, yes, these “meat products” are significantly lower in saturated fat than the real thing, but they’re also higher in sodium. They are a highly developed offering. “These are not your mother’s veggie burgers, made with beans and other whole plant ingredients,” warns a report released this year by the advocacy group. Food and water watch. The industrial food complex is a huge player, with companies like Tyson Foods and Cargill dominating the space.

Those facts mean that many health-conscious people remain skeptical about adding these artificial meats to their diets. “It has the same feel as another industrial landscape where we think we can outrun nature,” says Christine Lawless.Formerly known as food“.

The data shows that the new proposal does not appear to lead to major reductions in meat, it is more of a supermarket addition. As a study published this year in the journal Nature “Interestingly, after the first household PBMA [plant-based meat alternatives] the purchase, the consumption of minced meat has not decreased.”

At a time when food prices are rising, it becomes too easy to give up such novelties. Of the people who told me they both like plant-based meat and regularly dine on it (often as a breakfast meat substitute), several said they would cut back when inflation started. That points to a significant problem: artificial meat often does more expensive than even the budget version of the real thing.

In other words, people want to do the right thing for the environment and their health, but not at a significant cost to their taste or wallet.

It is hard not to think about margarine. Back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, margarine was rapidly replacing butter in cooking. One ad declared that the stuff was so good it could “trick Mother Nature.” This was not true and consumers knew it. They just thought it was the healthier choice. When it became clear in the 1990s that this was not the case, sales melted away. That’s not to say that margarine isn’t still with us, but few people talk about it as a substitute for butter.

It’s possible that what we’re seeing is a brief lull and the imitation meat market will pick up again as the product and the economy improve. One of the reasons for optimism. vegetarian meat consumers in general. younger than other buyers, which means there is more room for growth.

But there is already a viable protein option for those who want to maintain a vegan diet or cut back on meat consumption. As the doctor says, eat your peas… and other legumes like lentils and beans. That’s right, they don’t taste like sausage or chicken. Then again, if you ask me, the imitators don’t either.

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