Vegan Meat Is Now So Popular Its Producers Face All-New Challenges

A new piece from FoodNavigator-USA highlights some recent findings from marketing intelligence firm Numerator concerning plant-based meat. Using data collected from the purchases of more than 450,000 Americans, Numerator concluded that a whopping 80 percent of US shoppers plan to replace some or all of their meat purchases with plant-based products over the next year.

Additionally, the research showed that while half of people surveyed still prefer the taste of animal-based meat (ew… really, gurls?), 30 percent either slightly or strongly prefer plant-based. Still, an overwhelming majority found plant-based meat satisfying and said they would be willing to try new products as they’re introduced into the marketplace.

While all this newfound enthusiasm and acceptance of plant-based meats is awesome, the research also shows that plant-based meat still has some hurdles to overcome if its producers want it to truly go mainstream and take advantage of all the public interest.

First off, many shoppers still claim that finding plant-based alternatives to meat at their usual local market can be a struggle. My hope is that will rapidly change; as vegan meats grow in popularity, distribution will surely increase. We’ve actually seen companies who produce vegan alternatives to animal products, like Impossible Foods and Oatly, battle supply shortages as they’ve fought to keep up with the incredible demand. Oatly was forced to open two new production facilities in the US and Impossible Foods outsourced some of its production to a meat supplier ahead of the national launch of Burger King’s Impossible Whopper — truly a sign of the times.

Another obstacle for plant-based meat producers is the cost. Right now, vegan meats tend to be more expensive than their animal-based counterparts, and this puts them out of people’s budgets. What’s truly messed up about this is the fact that the only reason meat is so cheap is because our tax dollars offset the cost through heavy subsidizing of the industry.

The good thing is that vegan meat producers are well aware of this and are working diligently to bring prices dramatically down. Speaking to Forbes back in March, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said lowering the price point was a major goal and one of the reasons the company was going public (its IPO was in May). “There’s no reason this shouldn’t be cheaper than meat, and to get there we need to make investments in the supply chain,” Brown said at the time.

Data from Numerator also shows that many plant-based meat producers have also branched off from beef and started creating innovative vegan versions of chicken and fish as consumer interest has grown. I personally think we already have some incredible plant-based chicken alternatives available from companies like Gardein and Morningstar Farms, but it’s true that most of the buzz lately has been around vegan burgers and sausages. There’s also evidence that talking up the health and environmental benefits of plant-based meats (versus the unhealthy, climate-destroying animal versions) could improve sales as well.

Even with the challenges ahead, there’s no denying that plant-based meat is having a major moment. When 80 percent of Americans say they’re looking to replace some or all of their animal-based meat with vegan alternatives, that’s not a trend – that’s a revolution.