Environmental impact, ethics, feeling better, dietary restrictions, curiosity—it seems like there are more and more reasons to take a bite out of a meatless patty these days. And with the rise of readily-available meat alternatives, it’s also becoming much easier to step away from our carnivorous cravings. But what brands are leading the charge, what are they doing differently, and why are we seeing such a boom for these products now?
In 2020, with the volatile political climate, growing concerns over environmental issues, and a general feeling of uncertainty among Americans, there’s one thing we can all control: the food we put into our bodies. This desire for agency in our diet has led to an aversion to prescriptive and restrictive diets, and an increase in intuitive eating. Americans want to be able to make health-conscious choices that they can feel good about, without totally sacrificing the foods they’ve come to know and love. A great place to start is by swapping out integral parts of our usual diets with more health- and eco-conscious options. The sheer influx of alternative meats, alternative milks, and alternative desserts provides plenty of proof that we want to have our sugar-free, dairy-free cake AND eat it too. But why the sudden change in tastes, and where will this ‘alternative’ trend head in 2020?
Room 214’s research partner, Gartner, found that the rise in plant-based foods is predominantly thanks to young consumers. Their findings showed that only 26% of 18-34-year-olds surveyed viewed ‘lab-grown’ food products as ‘scary,’ compared to 45% of survey participants over 55. It’s also important to note that 20% of the younger consumers agreed that these products would ‘save the planet.’
But it’s not just meat-eaters who are trying meatless products, there are also plenty of meatless dieters who are willing to give animal products another try. We talked to Maddie Ivy, a Boulder resident studying nutrition who recently stepped back from veganism to give the flexitarian life a try: “To me putting a label on my diet made it feel like I had to eat perfectly all the time, but in reality no diet or eating pattern is perfect in terms of health or ethics,” Ivy said. “I moved away from being a strict vegan because I think that what we eat should be focused on making decisions not only about how the foods we eat affect the planet, the animals and ourselves, but also based on our current situation and how we feel day to day.” She added that meat alternatives are a great step towards reducing American dependency on animal products, which are notoriously harsh on the environment.
It’s clear that Americans are curious about removing meat from their diets, albeit partially. A quick look at the latest offerings from most fast food chains will show serves as evidence of the growing desire to try plant-based meat alternatives. In the past, Americans may have associated a plant-based diet with leafy greens and underwhelming flavors. Thanks to the emergence of plant-based fast food, some of the FOMO of giving flexitarianism has been removed. But plant-based offerings don’t have to be deep fried and dipped in sauce to be tasty.
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Launched in Summer 2019, Boulder-based (just like Room 214!) Meati is using a fungi called mycelium as a base for their steak and chicken alternatives. Meati claims to be the most similar alternative to real meat, grilling, searing, and tasting just like their mammalian counterparts. That ‘steak’ and potato dinner shown above is actually Meati’s plant-based steak offering. Meati’s Director of Marketing, Morgan Agho, told us that Meati is filling a need that consumers have expressed: “Consumers have been looking for full cuts of meat like full steaks and chicken breasts. They are also starting to question the ingredients and nutrition profiles of current offerings. Meati is focused on delivering products that taste great, are nutritious and good for the environment.” The brand’s success provides evidence for the importance of listening to the public. In this case, Meati heard consumers when they expressed a desire for a meat alternative that truly reduced environmental impact, and delivered a high quality solution in a timely fashion.
Whether you’re on the brand side or the consumer side, 2020 will be the year to experiment with plant-based alternatives to traditional products. The emergence and rapid rise of plant-based foods represent a massive win for brands who are good social listeners. Early adopters and industry frontrunners like Meati, KFC, and other fast food chains are seeing the success of their decision to invest in this emerging trend. Good brands can create a product and introduce it to the world—great brands listen to what the world needs and provide a product to suit those needs.
With all of the new and upcoming meat alternatives, it’s easy to understand why we’re seeing more and more Americans latch on to the trend. It’s new, it’s novel, it’s better for the environment, and it’s piquing our interest. Consumers are generally curious to see if these plant-based providings can really hold a candle to their animal product counterparts, and it’s driving sales. But will the curiosity convert to new established tastes? Or will this trend be a flash in the pan, as consumer tastes are too hard-wired towards our meat-and-potato past? Only time (and taste buds) will tell.