Fake meats – an explainer


Media this week has proclaimed the death of smashed avocado as millennials set their sights on fake meats. From Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat in the US, to Max Burgers in Europe and Right Treat in Asia, here is our look at the meat substitutes available right on the market, and a glimpse of those to come. 

A decade ago, the idea of fake meats was little more than hippie hogwash to the mainstream. Finding a restaurant that would substitute a portobello mushroom for a beef patty was a mean feat, let alone any sort of plant based, meaty look-a-like.

But these days, the fake meats industry is booming. According to estimates by Barclays, sales of plant-based meat alternative sales could grow by 1000 per cent over the next 10 years to exceed $200 billion.

That’s good news for the roughly 8 per cent of Australians who are vegetarians, half of which are millennials.

Consumers are disrupting the market, making conscious choices based on the impacts traditional meat production has on our planet, our health and the animals themselves.

It’s also good news for the planet, given livestock is the leading source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, responsible for roughly 16.5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by the Changing Markets Foundation.

This same report also links 60 per cent of human caused biodiversity loss to the impacts of livestock. This is compounded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ findings that nearly half of worldwide harvests go to feeding the livestock population.

Luckily, as awareness around these negative impacts of the livestock industry rise, the tides of historic meat reliance seem to be receding. Consumers are disrupting the market, making conscious choices based on the impacts traditional meat production has on our planet, our health and the animals themselves.

Statistics by the Changing Markets Foundation

So what are the meat alternatives?

If you consider meat alternatives to be any culinary substitute for meat, then the list is long.

Vegans and vegetarians have been swapping out chops and steaks for foods such as tofu, mushrooms and jackfruit for ages.

Vegetarian versions of things such as sausages and patties were introduced a little more recently but have saturated most metropolitan markets. These tend to still contain ingredients such as gelatine and eggs so require livestock to produce, but are readily available in most supermarkets.

The more novel vegan alternatives such as the Impossible Burger are far more recent. These are the lab made, science based options. They’re scientifically constructed from plant based inputs and are designed to look and taste like real meat.

This is achieved by extracting haemoglobin and binders from plants via fermentation “which imitates the sensory profile of meat and even blood to complete the meat-like experience,” according to analysis by ATKearney.

The US’s biggest meat processor, Tyson Foods Inc, has responded to the explosion in fake meat popularity with a product it claims will satisfy the so called “flexitarians”. For people who don’t want to fully cut meat from their diets but would like to eat a little less, the company has announced two products in a range it’s calling Raised & Rooted: plant-based nuggets and blended patties made from half pea based protein and half Angus beef.

Cleaned meat process

Then there’s “cultured meat” or “cleaned meat”. These goes a step further than the plant based meat substitutes in that they are created by duplicating the cells of an existing, living animal.

This cell is then “fed with a media to proliferate,” ATKearney’s research outlines, “and finally the resulting muscle and fat cells are structured in 3D scaffolding materials to meat.

“The result is meat which is identical to conventionally produced meat.”

There have been a number of tastings of prototype cleaned meat, but no commercial products exist.

International brands currently rocking the meat alternative market

Impossible Foods

You might have heard of Impossible Foods. We wrote about the company a little while ago when it did a collaboration with the burger chain Hungry Jacks.

This USA based company has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years, such as in 2018 when it was awarded the UN’s Champions of the Earth award for its vegetarian meat alternatives and efforts to educate consumers on the environmental benefits of plant based diets.

Earlier this year it released its Impossible Burger 2.0, designed to be tastier and healthier than the original. It is also gluten free.

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is Impossible Foods’ top competitor in the USA, offering similar plant based protein to similar success. The company went public May this year, 2019, and is now trading at more than five times its listing price of US$25 (AUD$35.90).

Beyond Meat was recognised by the UN alongside Impossible Foods for its impact on changing attitudes towards plant based meat alternatives.

The multinational grocery retailer Tesco bought distribution rights for the Beyond Meat Burger in the UK in 2018. It is available in Australia through Coles grocery retailer, as well from restaurants such as Lord of the Fries, Outback Steakhouse and JUS Burgers.

Max Burger

Swedish burger chain Max Burger also launched its own plant based meat alternative in May 2019. The Delifresh Plant Beef protein was developed in house by the company and is now available at all its restaurants in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Max Burgers also claims all its products are “climate positive”. The fast food restaurants achieves this by offsetting 110 per cent of its emissions, exceeding the ISO 14021 standard for carbon neutrality which it adheres to.

Right Treat

Right Treat is the Hong Kong based offering founder David Yeung says aims to tackle the Chinese pork industry. Its “all-purpose, tender, juicy” product, Omnipork, was created in collaboration with Asian chefs and consumers “to understand what makes pork, pork”.

Omnipork is a vegan offering created using a blend of plant-based protein derived from peas, soy, shiitake mushrooms and rice. It is currently available from vendors such as Cathay Pacific across Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.