The world of mock meat has come a long way over the years. Here, Green Monday share the latest on plant proteins, their rise in popularity, and what the future holds for the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible, and OmniMeat.
“Traditional mock meats have been around for ages in Asia as plant-based alternatives to meat. Eating plant-based is also closely associated with various cultures and religions across Asia, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. It’s self-evident that meat alternatives aren’t anything new in Asian cuisines.
However, with a new wave of plant-based alternatives popping up in the market, one might wonder how they would fit into the culinary scheme of things. What’s so novel about these products, and how are they any different from what we already have?
What are mock meats and alternative plant proteins, anyway?
Traditional mock meats are typically made of wheat gluten and can be made into several types of meat products, including sausages, nuggets, spam and even minced meat. Meanwhile, newer plant-based meats on the market (e.g. Beyond Meat, OmniMeat, Gardein) mainly consist of pea, soy, mung bean and/or rice proteins. Additionally, there are even more novel products in the works, for instance, cultivated proteins (otherwise known as lab-grown meats, e.g. Memphis Meats, Shiok Meats) and whole-food protein alternatives such as jackfruit and lion’s mane mushrooms (e.g. Karana).
Star investors for plant proteins
A key difference between these new alternative proteins would be their noteworthy endorsers and investors. For example, Beyond Meat is backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Evan Williams and Biz Stone (co-founders of Twitter and Medium), as well as screen legend Leonardo DiCaprio, all of who believe in championing the cause for a more sustainable global food solution for the planet. Cultured meat companies Memphis Meats and Shiok Meats are in turn endorsed by Richard Branson (the former), Singapore’s Temasek Holdings (the latter), and the ultimate meat giant Tyson Foods (both). The public support of business magnates, influential household names and meat industry leaders alike express their confidence in such products and in the alternative proteins industry as a whole; something mock meats have never even come close to achieving.
Beyond Meat’s shares also soared by 163% during the first day of trading last May, making it the best-performing IPO amongst U.S.-based companies that have raised at least $200 million since 2000 – signalling that plant protein does have bright prospects.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods were also joint winners of the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth Award 2018, in the Science and Innovation category, which was presented to them for their ‘revolutionary’ work in developing a ‘popular, plant-based alternative to beef’ and for ‘[educating] consumers about environmentally conscious alternatives’. The award once again points to the increasing international clout and recognition that such plant-based products have attained; and how there is very much a place for new alternative proteins in our future global food systems.
Traditional mock meats have also faced a fair bit of backlash: there have been increasing concerns regarding its highly processed nature, low nutritional value and the amount of unhealthy additives used. Shockingly, some products have even been found to contain animal-derived ingredients.
On the other hand, most plant-based proteins typically have higher nutritional value than actual meat, containing zero cholesterol, more dietary fibre and less saturated fat while maintaining comparable protein levels. Some products are even supplemented with vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12 and zinc, which are hard to come by in a plant-based diet. Certain brands also strictly use non-GMO or organic ingredients for their plant-based proteins. Most importantly, plant-based products are free from antibiotics and hormones which are commonly injected to animals to prevent diseases and accelerate their growth.
A matter of taste (and texture)
Furthermore, newer plant proteins are often the fruit of extensive research and development, and their formulas are constantly being improved upon by experts in fields such as technology, health and biochemistry. This results in superior production processes and ingredients used, meaning that they stay way ahead in terms of their ability to replicate the taste and texture of meat without using any animal-derived ingredients.
Marketing that packs a punch
Traditional mock meats and innovative plant proteins also target different consumer groups. While mock meats mainly cater to vegetarians who occasionally miss the texture of meat, plant proteins are similar enough to actual meat in terms of taste and texture to target meat-eaters, enticing them to eat plant-based more often.
This is reflected in Beyond Meat’s decision to sell their products in the refrigerated meat aisle when they first debuted in the United States, and their conscious effort to market themselves as direct competitors to actual meat products.
Beyond Meat products are also distributed all over the country to capture the entire mainstream consumer base, through partnerships with the largest retail chains, first Whole Foods, then Target, Walmart, Kroger, etc, as well as with leaders in the foodservice industry, for example, Carl’s Jr., Del Taco and A&W Canada.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, OmniMeat is the star brand which is incubated with Asian cuisines in mind. Following a launch with the country’s largest quick-service restaurant chain, Bafang Yunji, over a million OmniMeat dumplings are sold per week. Starbucks China has also unveiled a plant-based lunch menu incorporating Beyond Meat and OmniMeat, while KFC in the US debuted Beyond Meat’s brand new plant-based chicken (attracting queues round the block), speaking volumes about the increasing potential of and the promising future of these plant proteins.”