Meat packers add plants to plate as consumers, competition shift

Thu Oct 13, 2016 9:51am EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Some major North American meat producers are clearing room on their plates for plant-based substitutes, hedging their bets as consumer tastes shift and high-tech startups seek to create meat alternatives that taste like the real thing.

The trend was highlighted on Monday when Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N: Quote), the biggest U.S. chicken processor, took a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein maker partly backed by Bill Gates.

Other meat packers including Canada's Maple Leaf Foods Inc (MFI.TO: Quote) and German sausage-maker Rügenwalder Mühle are also stepping up production of "meats" made from peas, soy and other crops, predicting stronger sales growth for the segment than its traditional products.

"It's an incredibly hot area right now," said Adam Grogan, Maple Leaf's senior vice-president of marketing and innovation. "We view it as no different than chicken or pork. We view ourselves as a protein company first."

Global sales of meat substitutes jumped to an estimated $4 billion this year, a 42 percent rise since 2010, according to research firm Markets and Markets.

U.S. red meat consumption has declined steadily since the 1970s, U.S. government data shows, to 69.2 pounds per person in 2014, the lowest on record. Consumption may rebound in the coming decade, however, as production expands and prices decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture projections.

Globally, meat and seafood consumption amounted to 463 million tonnes in 2014, dwarfing 10 million tonnes of alternatives such as soy-based meat replacements, according to Lux Research.

Meat faces pressure from diners who may be concerned about animal welfare and the environmental impact of raising animals, or view vegetarian meals as healthier.   Continued...

Plant-based hamburger patties are on display during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach