Are alternative proteins just a trend?

I am afraid animal welfare and environmental concerns for a younger generation of consumers is going to play a bigger role in the demand for alternative proteins than we as livestock producers would like.

(RobWilson |
(RobWilson |

It's no secret in the food industry that alternative proteins have been a popular topic and big companies are making it a priority to expand their portfolios of untraditional "meat" products. Fresh meat protein continues to grow at a rate of 1.3%, while alternative proteins are growing by 10.3%.

Tyson Foods CEO Noel White, speaking during a quarterly earnings call on February 7, 2019, said that the company would continue to invest in its traditional meat protein businesses, but it is also "committed to incremental growth in alternative protein."

My colleague recently did an interview where an industry member explained that they thought alternative protein sales would hit a ceiling. I'm not convinced that is going to be the case. 

Why I'm a skeptic

As much as I would like to agree with that industry member and hope that people would only consume traditional meat products to support livestock producers, I am afraid a younger generation of consumers -- and their animal welfare and environmental concerns -- is going to play a bigger role in this than we as producers would like.

In the egg industry, we are seeing legislation in individual states force producers to go cage-free, even though large retailers haven't indicated to producers that they will go forward with the pledges they've made.

With that said, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who have pushed the cage-free movement so hard, will also push for the consumption of plant-based meat products or lab-grown meats to save animal lives.

Let's not forget that environmentalists seem to like to blame the cattle business for more than its fair share of greenhouse gases.

"Demand is being fueled by consumers choosing healthier diets and trying to reduce their impact on the environment. By 2023, the U.S. meat-substitute retail market could reach $2.5 billion, according to the research firm Euromonitor International," CNN reported in an article about alternative proteins in the spring of 2019.

Then we have millennials and Generation Z, who are doing the bulk of purchasing at grocery chains. With the oldest members of Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2010) set to graduate college this year, their spending power will continue to increase making them more influential.

Members of Generation Z are more open to new forms of food technology – such as meat alternatives, according to a recent study from global communications consultancy, Ketchum. More than 75% of Gen Z respondents revealed they would try a food grown with technology and 71% said they were comfortable overall with the use of technology to grow food.

In comparison, 67% of millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) answered that they are open to food technology, with only 56% comfortable with these new alternatives.

As Baby Boomers and members of Generation X become fewer in number and are less active they will consume less meat. That coupled with the popularity of animal rights and environmental well-being among younger generations has me fearful for livestock and poultry producers.


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