Plant-Based Meat Industry Faces Challenges as Sales Decline


Plant-Based Meat Industry in Crisis Mode as Sales Decline and Profits Shrink

The plant-based meat industry, once a booming sector that saw tremendous growth during the early months of the pandemic, is now grappling with a significant shift in consumer sentiment. According to a recent report from the Good Food Institute, an alternative protein nonprofit, dollar sales of plant-based meat and seafood in the United States have fallen by 13 percent over the past two years, with unit sales plummeting by a staggering 26 percent between 2021 and 2023.

One of the primary hurdles facing the industry is the high cost of plant-based alternatives compared to their animal-based counterparts. On average, plant-based meats in the US are 77 percent more expensive than traditional meat products, with the price premium for plant-based chicken alternatives surpassing 150 percent. Additionally, consumers have expressed dissatisfaction with the taste, texture, and overall quality of plant-based products, further contributing to the decline in sales.

Despite the challenges faced by the plant-based meat sector, plant-based milk alternatives have maintained their position as the leading category within the plant-based food industry. Dairy milk alternatives, such as soy, oat, and almond milk, account for nearly 15 percent of total milk sales in the US, while plant-based meat and seafood make up only around 1 percent of their respective markets. Plant-based milks alone constitute nearly a third of the entire plant-based food category in the US.

When considering the broader plant-based dairy alternatives market, which includes plant-based butter, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, US sales reached nearly $5 billion in 2023. While dollar sales of plant-based milk grew by 9 percent from 2021 to 2023, unit sales experienced a 10 percent decline during the same period. The total sales in the plant-based sector, as reported by the Good Food Institute, amounted to $8.1 billion.

Proponents of plant-based meat argue that the widespread adoption of plant-based alternatives could significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with our diets, as animal proteins, particularly beef, lamb, and dairy, are major contributors to food-related emissions. However, with plant-based meat sales stagnating, the industry's impact on carbon emissions remains uncertain.

In an effort to revitalize the sector, leading plant-based meat companies are introducing new, improved products designed to appeal to meat lovers. Impossible Foods recently relaunched its range of alternatives with a meatier style, while Beyond Meat unveiled its fourth-generation burger and ground beef products, touting them as their "meatiest, juiciest products yet."

As the plant-based meat industry navigates this challenging period, the future of the plant-based revolution in the United States hangs in the balance. The success of these new product launches and the industry's ability to address consumer concerns regarding taste, affordability, and health will likely determine the trajectory of the plant-based movement and its potential to make a significant impact on the climate crisis.

The plant-based meat industry has also been grappling with growing concerns surrounding ultra-processed foods, as the production of these alternatives often requires extensive processing. In an effort to address these concerns, Beyond Meat has reformulated its new burgers to contain less salt and saturated fat compared to previous iterations, while also streamlining its ingredient list. Many other plant-based companies are following suit, emphasizing their commitment to "clean-label" products in an attempt to win back health-conscious consumers.

The success of this strategic shift within the plant-based meat industry carries significant implications for the environmental impact of our dietary choices. As the plant-based revolution in the United States appears to be progressing more slowly than anticipated, the question remains whether these efforts will be sufficient to accelerate the adoption of plant-based alternatives and, consequently, reduce the carbon footprint associated with our food systems. The stakes are high, and the outcome of this pivotal moment in the plant-based movement will have far-reaching consequences for both public health and the fight against climate change.