Popularity of plant-based meat alternatives dipping

Price, over-processing, and sodium content some of the reasons

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Demand for plant-based meat alternatives — products that use soy or peas — is waning after undergoing a spike in popularity.

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Whether it was people giving up meat for good or just once in a while, the market for faux meat products grew significantly before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But the shine appears to be wearing off the products.

As the Washington Post noted:  “Meteoric growth in 2020 flattened in 2021 and retail sales have dropped more than 10% in the past year. Beyond Meat, the Los Angeles-based purveyor of plant-based burgers, crumbles, nuggets and such, saw its stock prices plunge nearly 80% from its peak, and last month the company announced it would lay off about 19% of its workforce.”

Another big player, JBS SA, announced last month it was shutting down its Planterra business in the U.S. and closing a huge facility there. While Burger King has a hit in its Impossible Whopper in the U.S., McDonald’s will not be making its McPlant burger a national offering south of the border after sales of a test run failed to meet expectations.

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In Canada, fast food giants Tim Hortons and McDonald’s both scrapped their Beyond Meat plans after less than a year. Tim Hortons offered Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches — and briefly burgers — at certain locations starting in May 2019.

But the options had been scrapped by the end of January 2020.

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McDonald’s tested Beyond Meat burgers called P.L.T. in Canada in 2019, but eventually discontinued them. A&W Canada continues to offer plant-based options, as does Burger King Canada.

Canadian powerhouse Maple Leaf Foods has embraced the market and done well with its Lightlife and Field Roast brands both here and in the U.S.

However, the company cautioned it did not expect “spectacular” growth in demand for the products, adding, “we do see the plant category growing, but at a steadier yet still attractive pace.”

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Despite warnings that animal-based foods have a massive impact on the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, demand for meat continues to increase.

“The global consumption of meat has more than doubled since 1990, reaching over 339 million metric tonnes in 2021, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that will rise to 374 million metric tonnes by 2030.”

Suspected reasons for the slump in demand for plant-based products include pricing — faux beef or chicken remain more expensive than real meat — and the high sodium content of some products.

It’s possible that cultivated meat, which is made from cell cultures from real animals that don’t need to be slaughtered, will prove more popular.

Those are expected to be released in the U.S. next year. The Food and Drug Administration just last Wednesday approved one such product by a California startup safe for human consumption.

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