GLOBAL – The plant-based meat industry, though facing recent challenges, remains optimistic about future growth, according to industry experts.

Despite setbacks for companies like Beyond Meat and Maple Leaf Foods, experts suggest that there are still areas for growth and improvement within the sector.

The plant-based meat industry gained momentum around the time A&W introduced the Beyond Meat burger, fueled by game-changing technology and increasing consumer focus on health and the environment.

Sales of plant-based meat products in the U.S. rose by 42% between March 2016 and March 2019, according to Nielsen. Canada also experienced a 7% increase in sales of plant-based protein products in the 2016-17 year.

Companies like Maple Leaf Foods made significant investments in plant-based alternatives, anticipating sustained consumer interest.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and related shifts in consumer behavior, such as increased cooking at home, may have accelerated the industry at an unsustainable pace. Market research also indicates a decline in U.S. retail sales of fresh and frozen meat alternatives in 2023.

Beyond Meat responded to these challenges by announcing workforce reductions and considering changes in product lines, pricing, and manufacturing processes.

Maple Leaf Foods also re-evaluated its plant protein business, citing a slowdown in the plant-based protein category performance.

Industry experts acknowledged the need for improvements in plant-based meat products, particularly in taste, texture, and pricing.

Ellen Goddard, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Alberta, notes that many plant-based products face challenges in meeting consumer expectations.

“Price, in particular, has become a significant consideration for consumers,” he noted.

Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, emphasizes the need for increased investment and processing capacity to make plant-based meat more competitive in terms of pricing.

“Canada, as the world’s largest exporter of pulses, has an opportunity to expand domestic processing operations and diversify its economy.”

Despite recent challenges, a report by Ernst & Young for Protein Industries Canada offers a positive outlook, projecting a global market for plant-based meat between US$88.3 billion and US$139.4 billion by 2035.

The report suggested that plant-based proteins could offer a more sustainable food source as the global population grows.

While high-profile companies like Beyond Meat and Maple Leaf Foods may face challenges at the institutional level, experts believe that smaller companies will continue to drive innovation and growth.

“The younger generation, motivated by environmental concerns, remains a key driver of interest in plant-based products.”

Overall, industry experts view the current phase as one of stabilization, with ample opportunities for future growth as technology, innovation, and flavor profiles evolve within the plant-based meat sector.

Despite recent setbacks, the industry remains on a trajectory of continued market share expansion, gradually transforming consumer preferences toward plant-based alternatives over traditional meat.

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