Angus Gidley-Baird challenges the meat industry to heed some of the consumer trends to ensure it stays at the front of the consumers’ mind.

Is it time to take notice of alternative proteins

Angus Gidley-Baird challenges the meat industry to heed some of the consumer trends to ensure it stays at the front of the consumers’ mind.

If you are like me, you are currently trying to recover from a food coma induced by the festive season. Reflecting on this overconsumption, one might be prompted to ask the question ‘what will we be eating in five, 10 or 20 years’ time?’

Recently, there has been increased attention on the development of alternative proteins – whether they be from plant based substitutes, new alternatives such as insects, or lab-grown meat products. Is this what might grace our dinner plates in the future?

In light of this increased interest, Rabobank’s global animal protein strategist Justin Sherrard has looked into the growth of the alternative protein market. While alternative proteins will have different penetration in different markets, more mature protein-consuming regions, such as the European Union and the US are getting most attention. In the European Union, alternative protein consumption is expected to grow at a constant annual growth rate of eight per cent over the next five years, while in the US and Canada it is expected to grow at a rate of six per cent. 

Although these numbers are coming off a small base and any incremental increases show high growth rates, it is interesting to see that in the EU in particular this growth in alternative proteins actually makes up a large part of the total increase in protein consumption. Growth in alternative protein products is expected to represent one-third of the total protein demand growth for the EU. In contrast, the growing demand for animal protein in the US means growth in alternative proteins is only expected to represent two per cent of the total demand growth to 2022.

Growth numbers aside, seven key drivers were identified as contributing to the interest in alternative proteins in these mature markets. The seven drivers are; increased focus on healthy diets, concerns about animal welfare, increased sustainability, curiosity, convenience, the ability to tailor personal nutrition and growing investor interest.

These drivers are not exclusive for alternative proteins. They are also important messages that conventional protein markets should look to target if they are to compete with the growing interest in alternative proteins and more generally some of the trends that are shaping consumption habits in mature markets.

In 2016, the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association invited Dutch pharmacologist Professor Mark Post to speak on the development of synthetic meat. A bold move given the audience. I’ll never forget the comment (presented in language not conducive to printing) by a big Territorian sitting not far from me that probably summed up many people’s reaction to the presentation – this synthetic meat is not going to catch on. It may well not become the complete replacement for traditional sources of protein, but the meat industry would be wise to heed some of the consumer trends that are driving this interest to alternative proteins to ensure it stays at the front of the consumers’ mind and the middle of the consumers’ plate.   

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