Plant-based meat aka vegan meat, meat substitute, mock meat, meat alternative, imitation meat, or vegetarian meat are meat-like substances made from vegetarian ingredients. Plant-based meat products are made to mimic properties found within natural meats and are considered to be meat substitutes. It is usually made from soy, peas, beans, mushrooms, mung beans, or wheat gluten.
There is a growing movement (a lot of it fuelled by social media) that has persuaded people to be more responsible global citizens and do things that are good for the planet, not eat animals etc. and that has opened up business opportunities to offer consumers a more sustainable and environmentally friendly line up of meat alternatives. This community has also produced some fanatics like this:
The business opportunity
The companies and the influencers that work for them have successfully managed to persuade people that a “patty” made from chickpeas is more expensive than a patty made from a cow that was born, raised, fed, slaughtered, and processed leading to massive profits for these companies. As cynical and suspicious that I am that this industry is just one big cash grab, the companies have proven me right, Beyond Meat has gross profit margins of over 30% something unheard of in the real meat industry (unless you running a restaurant). If they are to be considered the children of the light, why not settle for slimmer margins to make their product more affordable? If you want to further a cause you make it as accessible as possible, you can still do so from behind a cash register but R110 for two plant-based patties is just ridiculous you can buy 2x whopper meals or 2x Big Mac meals and swop out the cooldrink for milkshake with that money and you are getting a burger, chips and cooldrink instead of just a raw product that still has to be made.
The locals have also got on the grazing train, Woolworths for example is selling 800g of “sweet potato schnitzels” for R75. Whereas a kilo of sweet potatoes cost R27 at Woolies. That is over R50 (remember only 800g) for cooking it and coating (the monsters used an egg!) with some crumbs and adding a little sachet of spicy BBQ mayo to make it taste like something. Not only that but when I was younger sweet potatoes used to be poor people’s potatoes now it’s been gentrified and found alongside gourmet burgers.
With such margins, there is no reason you shouldn’t get your share, there can after all be no shortage of people wanting to save the planet.
The money in this business is to create something that gets as close to meat as possible, why? I don’t know, I thought these people hated meat. That essentially means it has to look, taste, and feel like meat products. Plant-based meats are made to resemble meat products in texture, flavour, and appearance. Now from what I have heard this is not an easy task and might not be the best option for a small business as not only is the taste an issue but the colour as well and there are even companies working on the cosmetic colour alone by manufacturing specialty natural food colouring additives and alternatives to heme, a product that is found in blood. This is to make it look more appealing and not like the gruel that was served in Soviet gulags which is exactly what mashed chickpeas looks like.
When creating plant-based meat alternatives don’t get caught up in creating something that is called a meat product, this might heighten expectations. If you making sweet potato and chickpea balls rather call them “bites” than calling them “plant meatballs”.
There are also some other products like gluten meat (aka seitan), “mock duck” which is made from wheat gluten, oil, sugar, soy sauce, and salt.
What are meat alternatives made from
There are a few common ingredients found in plant-based meat, this includes soybeans (and other legumes), pea protein, wheat gluten, lentils, and tofu, yuba, tempeh etc.
One product that a lot of effort has been put into, probably the most of all is veggie burgers. With lots of recipes out there you can get a good idea of the thinking around it. There are even courses to make veggie burgers.
The local landscape
The local vegan meat industry has ramped up fast, I’ve lived with a vegetarian and they used to complain about the lack of local variety. There is Quorn and Fry’s who are considered mediocre by some, Checkers moved fast with Linda McCartney’s range and I recently saw they have a “Future Farm”, future sausages, future burgers, future mince, future meatballs which looks and sounds like a Beyond Meat knockoff. And then you have Woolworths with their “Plant Powered” range.
Within the local landscape what are the chances of taking a new vegan meat product to market?
Taking anything to market requires a lot of resources, not just in the prelaunch time, testing, R&D but cash flow to stock up and if major retailers maintain the status quo they will have a cheaper house brand and a more expensive brand not leaving a lot of meat on the bone for a smaller player.
I would think it would be far easier to launch a vegan fast food range than it would a retail range (which will be very hard to get into). With fast food, there are two quick routes to market: ghost kitchens (selling via app) or food trucks with the opportunity at some organic markets as well but those are often not every day. You are also dealing with products that not only have larger margins but ingredients that have a longer shelf life than their meat counterparts.