Plant-based meat: underlying trend and rising offers
Plant-based meat has become a major trend in 2022. Never before have plant substitutes taken center stage to such an extent. This major trend was particularly visible at SIAL, the world food trade show held every two years in Paris. It’s very simple, it seems that plant-based meat is such a massive consumer trend that even classic meat producers are forced to get started.
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2 worlds clashing
One of the strongest images of this SIAL 2022 will remain for me the confrontation between 2 worlds, represented by the photo below. On the one hand, Hera, one of the leaders in “plant-based” products (plant substitutes). On the other side of the corridor, Averno a sausage producer. The black, the yellow. Modernity on one side, classicism on the other. Marketing visions that collide head-on.
The contrasts are multiple and are found at all levels. In products of course, but also in marketing. We feel a terribly traditional marketing among meat manufacturers, unable to get out of ten-year codes. On the other hand the best ghostwriting companies, among plant-based companies, we usually find an uninhibited marketing full of energy.
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Plant-based meat: start-ups attacking the market
The “plant-based” trend was strongly represented by start-ups and “pure players” at SIAL 2022. Several dozen relatively young companies have invested in the niche. The observation underlying their creation is simple:
- meat consumption will double by 2050
- the available agricultural land is insufficient to support such growth
La Vie, for example, is a French startup created in 2019 by Vincent Boulichet and Nicolas Schweitzer. Their flagship product, vegetable bacon, was launched in October 2021. The idea of this product is to offer a substitute that meets consumer taste expectations. What is indeed good in meat is the fat. However, it is absent from vegetable meats. After 3 years of R&D, a patent was filed by La Vie for a fat based on sunflower oil (unsaturated) and water. Vegetable bacon is smoked with beech wood like normal bacon but contains 5 times less fat. At the tasting the result is stunning. It has the taste of bacon, the appearance and the texture but it tastes much less heavy. I was conquered.
Kokiriki was also very present at SIAL 2022. Its Cowboy Burger made from plant-based meat was on display at the entrance to the show. Like La Vie, this startup adopts very recognizable marketing codes:
- Strong brand identity focused on a specific color
- Very “fun” brand image with quirky visuals
Hera, the Spanish startup, follows the same trends. I tasted his spicy burger and again it’s amazing. Vegetable meat really has the texture of normal meat and with the spices we clearly have a gourmet product. I was less enthusiastic about the vegetable chicken meat. The texture is less convincing and this is where the ultra-processed character of the product stands out. Remember that plant-based meat remains an ultra-processed product.
From a branding point of view, Hera adopts a marketing recipe similar to its competitors: strong colors, modern design and a resolutely young team at the helm.
Plant-based meat invites itself into ultra-processed products
The consumer must keep in mind that meat substitutes are ultra-processed products. The visual and gustatory imitation is done with a lot of industrial processes. There is no choice.
The paroxysm of ultra-processing is reached when plant-based meat is integrated into products that are themselves already largely processed. This “maximum transformation”, this culinary sleight of hand, has also received honors from SIAL 2022. Chime Chime, a Thai company, has thus been nominated for the SIAL Innovation Awards for its glozes, shaman and other Asian specialties stuffed with meat substitutes.
Manufacturers can no longer ignore meat substitutes
What we saw at SIAL 2022 is that even manufacturers in the traditional sector were getting into it. De Angelis, for example, has entered into a partnership with Beyond Meat to offer plant-based meat ravioli. This product is not yet available outside Italy but there is no doubt that distributors will soon be interested in it. It is remarkable to note that in this specific case it is a co-branding between De Angelis and Beyond Meat.
Another example of diversification into vegetable meat comes from Bulgaria. Bart link International is a very classic meat trading company. However, it follows consumer trends very closely. Alongside meat products such as its “meat bars”, it has also invested in meat substitutes. Its marketing manager explained to me that this investment seemed necessary to them because the European Union gave it the impetus to reduce the CO2 footprint.
Plant-based meat is therefore not the prerogative of startups. It is recognized as an integral part of the marketing strategy of large groups.
Since the last edition of SIAL in 2018, four years have passed. The meat market has undergone profound changes that were visible at SIAL 2022.
Plant-based meat, which was still just a nascent innovation in prototype form in 2018, is now a solid, growing market. After the start-ups of fiction ghostwriting services have successfully launched themselves in this niche, meat substitutes are also being adopted by large manufacturers and integrated into their product lines.
From a taste point of view, however, not all plant-based meats are created equal. While some (cowboy burger from Kokiriki, spicy burger from Hera, vegetable bacon from La Vie) are really very good, others are really not up to par. In general, I was not convinced by the vegetable chicken meat whose ultra-processed character is very present.
We bet that at SIAL 2024 the market will have taken another giant step forward and that the current gaps will have been filled.