The Plant-based meat industry is booming in the pandemic

As a meat shortage looms over the US, one particular industry is reaping the benefits: plant-based alternatives.

Plant-based meats are taking the world by storm.

Surging demand

Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, and other meat-alternative products are enjoying what seems to be the start of a golden period, as demand is increasing all around the US — and outside of it.

First, the California-based Impossible Foods announced that their burger alternatives will be sold at 1,700 Kroger-owned grocery stores, all around the US — from only 150 grocery stores, previously. They did this as demand for the Impossible Burger has “skyrocketed”

“Our existing retail partners have achieved record sales of Impossible Burger in recent weeks,” said the company’s president, Dennis Woodside, in a statement. “We expect our retail footprint to expand more than 50-fold in 2020 alone, and we are moving as quickly as possible to expand with additional outlets and in more retail channels.”

Menawhile, Beyond Meat (whose products could already be found at Dunkin Donuts) announced record earnings for the previous quarter — gaining the interest of investors, which drove the company’s stocks up by a whopping 20% in only a matter of days.

“During this unprecedented time, we remain steadfast in our resolve to continue to provide great-tasting plant-based meats to consumers, to solidify our support to our retail and foodservice customers, and to continue to lead the global plant-based meat movement,” Beyond Meat President Ethan Brown said in a statement. Brown added:

“This is a time of hyper-growth. We are doing everything we can right now to grab as much market share as we possibly can.”

War of the meats

In recent years, plant-based meats have become a staple in many markets. Image credits: Impossible Foods.

Plant-based alternatives have also received more and more attention because of the precarious situation the meat industry is facing over the pandemic. Thousands of coronavirus infections have been traced to meat processing plants, leading to the closing of several large-scale plants. President Trump signed an executive order demanding meat plants to stay open, but this did not really solve the issue — many workers don’t want to come in due to the lack of protective personal equipment (PPE) and distancing measures, and several plants still remain operational or working at reduced capacity.

As meat processing plants have become hotspots for the outbreak, the fragile supply chain for meat was also disrupted, in large part due to meat companies themselves which have coalesced into a near-monopoly of the market, with a few large companies covering most of the country’s supply.

Meat prices are expected to rise, while selection is expected to drop. Meanwhile, meat alternatives — once regarded as premium options — have managed to keep prices relatively low.

Then, there’s the fact that more people are staying at home and ordering takeaway — and as the Beyond’s and the Impossible’s hit the grocery stores and more delivery services, their sales can only go up.

“We’ve always planned on a dramatic surge in retail for 2020 — but with more and more Americans’ eating at home under ‘shelter-in-place’ orders, we’ve received requests from retailers and consumers alike,” Impossible Foods President Dennis Woodside said in a statement.

Environmental and ethical concerns

Image credits: USDA

There are the usual reasons for choosing meat alternatives — plant-based meats have a lower environmental footprint, they produce less carbon dioxide, require less water, and so on. There is also the ethical aspect of killing animals, but that hasn’t changed significantly over the past few months.

Instead, many Americas are concerned about how meatpacking workers are contracting COVID-19 due to unsafe working conditions. In meat plants, workers usually stand shoulder to shoulder as they dismember and process animals, whereas plant-based factories don’t require their workers to be so slightly packed. Impossible Foods has already stated that their workers are respecting social distancing and are provided with face masks, which could be a factor buyers might consider.

The pandemic has also drawn significant attention regarding wildlife trade and our treatment of animals in general, and it is possible that this is also having a slight effect on the market.

Whatever the case may be, plant meats are enjoying a remarkable resurgence. It remains to be seen whether this will turn out to be a fad or whether they are here to stay.

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