The plant-based and alternative protein market struggled last year but its backers remain focused on chicken.

In 2022, consumers saw food prices soar due to record inflation. They accordingly eschewed costlier alternative proteins and went for cheaper options like chicken.

This cast a dark cloud over faux meat and raises questions about the long-term viability of alternative proteins in the U.S.  

Beyond Meat’s rapid decline

The poor performance of Beyond Meat Inc., the publicly traded maker of plant-based products masquerading as beef, pork and poultry, is potentially telling for the entire sector.

The price of Beyond Meat stock hit an all-time low of $12.30 at the end of December 2022 following months of bad news including lay-offs, sales growth falling fall short of projections and executive departures.

The company was once a Wall Street darling. It saw its stock trade for more than $200 a share in 2019 and more than $150 a share until the middle of 2021 when a long, sharp decline in investor confidence began.  

Major food industry players also shuddered in 2022. In August, Kellogg’s executives said it plans on selling or spinning off its plant-based business Morningstar Farms due to dropping sales. In October, JBS closed its two-year-old plant-based operation Planterra Foods.

Looking ahead

Despite short-term struggles, investors apparently see long-term value in plant-based protein. According to business media reports, sales for plant-based protein dipped overall in 2022 but sales of cheaper, nugget, patty and tender like products that are flavored like chicken rose.

In 2022, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told investors the company saw chicken as a path forward and it will continue to invest in improving its recipe.

The popularity and versatility of chicken will always inspire imitators. For now, at least, the industry can view alternative proteins as either a somewhat risky investment opportunity or just another competing, specialty product.