Rising popularity of meat alternatives could change markets for farmers

Published 6:09 pm Monday, May 6, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

The cheeseburger of the future might not have any meat on it. The next generation of plant-based meat substitutes are coming on strong, with buy-in from trendsetting celebrities and tasty patties even some meat aficionados admit they have a hard time distinguishing from the real thing.

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Kentucky needs to pay attention to the shifting market for meat, because what happens there can have a substantial impact on the commonwealth’s agricultural base.

When Beyond Meat Inc. went public on Wall Street May 2, its shares more than doubled in value the first day. The meat alternative company had the best first-day percentage gain of any initial public offering in the U.S. this year, and it’s also the 16th best of all time, according to The Rural Blog, run by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Last month, Burger King announced it would be rolling out a new “Impossible Whopper” — made with a meatless burger from Impossible Foods — nationwide. White Castle, Qdoba and Ikea are three other nationwide chains that already have or have plans to offer meatless food options.

Kentucky has more than 38,000 cattle farmers raising 2.1 million cattle and calves, according to the Kentucky Beef Council. The Bluegrass State is one of 14 in country that have more than 2 million cattle, according to the USDA’s bi-annual cattle inventory released in February.

The value of those cattle could be affected in the future if meatless meat continues to gain popularity. It may not be tomorrow, but it might not be as far off as you think.

“Although the number of vegans and vegetarians in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the last decade, more Americans are trying to cut down on their meat consumption and embracing the ‘flexitarian’ lifestyle, usually for health or environmental reasons,” according to CNBC. “The U.S. meat substitute market is worth about $1.44 billion, according to Euromonitor International data. By 2023, the market is expected to grow 74% to $2.5 billion.”

Even at $2.5 billion, real meat industries will still dwarf meatless meat. And the newest meatless trend could be just a fad. But it could also be just the beginnings of what’s to come, especially if prices for future generations of meatless products drop below what it costs for regular meat.

It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. But handled the right way, it might be a trend some farmers could benefit from. If they can grow the plant ingredients needed for a growing meatless industry, they could potentially buy in to the next thing instead of taking a hit.

Eating local is another popular food trend — one that’s probably much bigger than meatless burgers. Kentucky farmers could tap into both trends at once if they could make local meatless meats branded with the iconic “Kentucky Proud” logo.

The decline of tobacco and rise of hemp has already shown that Kentucky farmers can adapt to changing markets and prosper. If meatless meat is the next wave of the future, we think Kentucky farmers can successfully adapt to that, too.