There’s a new trend taking the food industry by storm this year, even making its way into traditional fast-food restaurants: plant-based meat. That’s right, from the Impossible Burger to other plant-based meat options like Beyond Meat, this new meat and protein alternative is exploding in popularity.
But there is a bit of confusion surrounding these products, as many consumers don’t truly understand what plant-based meats actually are and how they are made. What do you know about plant-based meat? Here are some important things to know about the new form of protein.
Are Plant-Based Meats Really Free of Animal Products?
Many consumers don’t know that plant-based meat products are in fact entirely free of animal products. In a survey of 1,800 consumers conducted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, just 45 percent reported that they believe plant-based beef is vegan. Meanwhile, around 30 percent believed that plant-based beef could have some animal byproducts, 17 percent thought there might be small amounts of meat, and 7 percent thought that there was meat in plant-based meat products, without restrictions on the amount included.
This represents a deep misunderstanding of plant-based products in the consumer marketplace. A part of this misunderstanding seems to come from the packaging of these products, and possibly, where they are sold in stores (often, next to meat).
Participants in the survey were often confused by the packaging and labeling of plant-based meat products, including the wording on the label, the inclusion of the word “beef,” and the use of packaging that looks like traditional meat packaging. Many meat groups have fought the so-called misleading packaging used by plant-based meat companies, citing that these companies were using the “good name” of beef products and causing customer confusion as a result. Some have even tried to take the issue to court.
Plant-based companies, on the other hand, argue that consumers look for plant-based options specifically, and that there is, in fact, no confusion about these products. But the results of this recent survey might cause a universal label reform.
So What Is Plant-Based Meat?
Plant-based meat products differ in their ingredients from company to company, but they often contain different types of oils, such as canola oil or coconut oil, and alternative protein sources like pea protein, mung bean protein, rice protein, and others. These products seem to be popular mostly because of their similarity to meat products in texture and even in flavor.
According to estimates by Euromonitor, the value of the plant-based meat product industry is expected to hit more than $2.3 billion dollars by 2023. The two main recognizable brands driving the plant-based meat industry today are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, both of which have established impressive deals with restaurants and fast-food locations to bring their products onto menus worldwide.
Is It Healthier?
There is some controversy over whether plant-based burgers are actually any healthier than traditional beef burgers. The most popular brands do contain some highly processed ingredients, a feature that some dieticians argue isn’t inherently healthier than traditional beef. Though there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with substituting your traditional beef burger with these plant-based options, the substitute isn’t necessarily a huge health benefit, especially if you believe processed foods are less healthy.
Veggie burgers and vegan options for plant-based burgers have been on the market for years, but they haven’t seen the popularity of these new plant-based products. Some of that might be because traditional veggie burgers don’t always try to mimic the texture and flavor of beef. A burger made of beans, sweet potatoes, or flax seeds might be delicious, but it won’t have the mass appeal that these new plant-based options have today.
A More Ethical Choice
Despite the controversy over the health benefits of plant-based beef, there is research that shows it may indeed be a more ethical and environmentally friendly choice to make. A survey by Fast Company notes that if Americans did switch from meat to plant-based meat, the environmental impact would be equivalent to removing nearly 12 million cars from the road for an entire year.
According to another study at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems (sponsored by Beyond Meat), plant-based burger products are made with 45 percent less energy, cause 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, and have less impact on water scarcity (99 percent less) and land use (93 percent less) than just a quarter pound of traditional beef.
The plant-based products trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Consumers are demanding plant-based alternatives to common everyday products, even outside of meat. Plant-based alternatives for eggs, cheese, and dairy are a big part of the food industry today, and that share is likely to continue growing in the coming decade. Stay tuned to see what new plant-based options hit the marketplace.