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MEAT INDUSTRY

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Growing Appetite for Plant-Based Foods Disrupts the Meat Market

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Not many years ago, veganism or consumption of only plant-based foods, was considered an extreme form of lifestyle. Food options that were available for vegans were very limited and meat alternatives were based mainly on tofu, tempeh, and nuts. However, this is not the case anymore. Not only has the mindset regarding vegan food changed in the recent times, but also plant-based alternatives have become the fastest growing food category in the USA. This is also driven by a greater number of meat eaters experimenting with plant-based meat alternatives, whether due to health benefits, growing awareness regarding animal cruelty, or environmental reasons. Moreover, tremendous amount of investment and research in this space has resulted in wide range of food options, including vegan cheese and vegan meats that taste similar to animal-based proteins.

Vegan food has been around for quite some time now, but it was largely considered to be a niche market having a separate shelf in the supermarkets or being served in vegan-only restaurants and cafes. Moreover, it was considered an extreme lifestyle by many. However, over recent years, vegan meal options have found their way into the mainstream, with more and more people embracing veganism and meat-eaters adding plant-based food options in their diet. This is clearly evident from the steep growth witnessed by this food category, especially in the western world.

As per a study commissioned by the Good Food Institute (GFI) and the Plant Based Food Association in the USA, the retail market for plant-based foods was valued at about US$4.5 billion in April 2019, registering a year-on-year increase of about 11% and a growth of 31% in the two-year period from April 2017 through April 2019. The largest segment of vegan food market in the year ending April 2019 was the plant-based milk segment, which comprised about 40% of sales (US$1.9 billion). This category witnessed a y-o-y increase of about 6%. To put this in further perspective, animal-derived milk sales for the same period declined by 3%. While plant-based meat alternatives, cheeses, yogurts, eggs, and creamers are relatively new and smaller categories, they are driving growth in the vegan food segment too.

The growing sales across most vegan food segments indicate a momentous shift towards a vegan diet, which is not only propelled by an increasing number of people turning purely vegan but also a rise in meat eaters that prefer plant-based alternatives in some food categories, such as milk and milk-based products. This is due to growing lactose intolerance among consumers, with about 65% of the world’s population estimated to be lactose intolerant. The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The trend is further supported by the launch of vegan meat substitutes that resemble meat products in taste, look, and even texture. US-based players, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are leading this space with the latter having received investments from the likes of Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Industry players are diversifying into plant-based foods

Understanding that this trend is more than just a fad, several food companies (including large meat producers) have started entering this space, by either buying or investing in plant-based food start-ups.

Tyson Foods, USA’s leading meat producer, invested in Beyond Meat in 2016 and 2017, by acquiring a 6.52% stake in the company. However, in April 2019, Tyson Foods sold its stake in Beyond Meat with an intention to develop its in-house line of alternative (plant-based) protein products.

Nestle, which is one of the largest food companies globally, has also been expanding its portfolio with a keen focus on plant-based alternatives. In 2017, the company purchased Sweet Earth, a California-based producer of vegan meals and snacks, while in 2018, it purchased majority stake in Terrafertil, a plant-based organic food player that was founded in Ecuador and has presence across the USA, UK, and Latin America.

In January 2019, Nestle expressed its plans to launch its in-house vegan burger patty, called the Incredible Burger under its Garden Gourmet brand. The company is also looking to develop a portfolio of dairy-free beverages, such as purple milk (which is made with walnuts and blueberries) and blue latte containing spirulina algae. It is also adding vegan options to its existing brands, such as Haagen-Dazs (which launched a range of dairy-free ice creams in July 2017) and Nescafe (which introduced vegan protein-based coffee smoothies in December 2018).

Similarly, Marfig, Brazil-based leading meat processor, also entered the plant-based food alternatives market through a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland in August 2019. Under the partnership, Archer Daniels Midland will produce the raw material while Marfig will produce and sell the end product through foodservice and retail channels.

Canada-based Maple Leaf has also made significant investments in plant-based food players to expand its product portfolio and brand positioning. In February 2018, it acquired US-based plant protein manufacturer, Lightlife Foods, for US$140 million. Through this acquisition, it added Lightlife’s refrigerated plant-based products, such as hot dogs, breakfast foods, and burgers, to its portfolio and garnered a strong footprint in the US plant-based food market. To further strengthen its hold in this market, in December 2018, the company entered into an agreement to buy US-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. for US$120 million. Field Roast Grain Meat supplies grain-based meat alternatives (including sausages, burgers, etc.) and vegan cheese products to the North American market.

Danone, a global food company with large number of dairy products is also bullish on the growing popularity of plant-based foods. In April 2017, it purchased WhiteWave Foods, a US-based leading player in plant-based food and beverage for US$10 billion. It rebranded the company to DanoneWave and in October 2017, further invested US$60 million into its plant-based milk operations. In 2019, the company expressed plans to triple its revenue (to about US$5.6 billion) from its plant-based food line by 2025.

In addition to these, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands. These include Brazil-based JBS Foods, US-based Smithfield Foods, UK-based Hilton Food Group, Germany-based Wiesenhof, UK-based Heck Food, Canada-based Saputo, and US-based Dean Foods Company, among many others.

In addition to these leading food producers, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands.

Fast food chains have also joined the vegan bandwagon. In April 2019, Burger King introduced a vegan version of its classic sandwich, called the Impossible Whopper. Similarly, Dunkin introduced a vegan breakfast sausage made by Beyond Meat, while KFC launched vegan fried chicken also made by Beyond Meat. In 2017, McDonald’s launched a vegan burger in Finland and Sweden and has plans to launch the same in Germany. In 2016, UK-based café, Pret a Manger opened a vegan pop-up store in central London and later made it permanent in 2017. Over the years, it opened three more stores (two in London and one in Manchester) under the name Veggie Pret. In April 2019, the company purchased rival food chain, Eat, and aims to convert about 90 of its stores into its vegan chain, Veggie Pret.

Just like the food producers and quick service restaurant chains, supermarkets have also been quick to respond to the vegan trend. In 2018, Tesco, a leading UK-based supermarket chain, launched its own range of vegan foods under the name Wicked Kitchen. Similarly, British department store chain, Marks & Spencer has also introduced a vegan food range in its food department. Vegan options have been introduced and are easily available across a wide range of US-based departmental stores such as Whole Foods, Target, and Kroger.

However, the key shift seen in departmental stores regarding plant-based meals is their placement. Traditionally, vegan food including plant-based meats and dairy were stocked together in a ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ isle or section. However, recently, these options have begun to be stored alongside their animal-based counterparts. For instance, plant-based dairy has now been moved to the beverage or dairy case. This exposes shoppers to a wider range of options for milk and increases the shopper’s chances of trying plant-based alternatives. This thereby opens the category to shoppers who otherwise would have not explored the separate vegan section in the store.

Similarly, plant-based meat options are also being increasingly stored along with traditional meat items, widening the choice for consumers who are flexitarians (i.e. consumers who are not completely vegan but do also consume vegan food from time to time). UK-based department chain, Sainsbury, was the first supermarket in the UK to place vegan products that are designed to look and taste like meat within the meat section.

Challenges ahead

While the number of vegan consumers is on the rise, it is still very low when compared with people consuming a meat-based diet. Moreover, while a great number of people are exploring vegan options, vegan meals are still largely perceived as offering limited nutritional value when compared with traditional meat-based meals, especially with regards to protein intake. While there is limited truth to this, companies offering vegan options have to invest substantially to educate consumers regarding the nutritional value of vegan meals.

In addition to this, vegan or plant-based meal options face another mindset block. Meat eating has long been associated with masculinity. This by contrary gives vegan meals a perception of being less ‘manly’ and thereby limiting the number of men who are open to embracing this meal option. To counter this, market leaders such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been avoiding terms such as vegan and vegetarian in their marketing strategy and have been promoting their burgers at male-centric locations such as sports events. Instead of pushing men to eat less meat, they are working towards expanding the definition of meat in the consumer’s mind to include plant-based options. They have also included ingredients (such as beet juice) in their burger to resemble a bleeding beef, making it clone the beef burger in terms of appearance, texture, and experience of consuming.

Other than mindset, price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5. Similarly, Beyond Meat’s, Beyond Sausage retails for US$10.30 a pound, charging a premium of about 70% over a comparable pork sausage. Higher price points are off-putting for a big chunk of consumers, who may otherwise be willing to change eating habits owing to health or environmental reasons. While currently, the prices differ greatly, it is expected that the price difference will reduce in the long run (or be wiped off completely). Understanding price to be a big limiting factor, companies such as Beyond Meat are researching and investing into alternative plant protein sources that would lower the cost.

Price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5.

However, one of the biggest roadblocks faced by the vegan food producers in making them mainstream is the backlash from the meat industry, which has in some cases resulted in labeling regulations that are damaging for the growth of the plant-based food sector.

In 2017, the EU banned the use of the term ‘milk’ and other dairy products, such as ‘cheese’, ‘yogurt’, etc., for plant-based alternatives (however, traditional versions such as almond or coconut milk and peanut butter are excluded from the ban).

In April 2018, France banned meat names for plant-based alternatives, such as vegetable ‘steak’, soy ‘sausage’, and ‘bacon-flavored strips’. Similarly, in May 2019, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee proposed a ban on the use of meat-related terminology on their labels and product description for vegetarian or vegan products. This includes terms such as ‘steak’, ‘sausage’, and ‘burger’. The proposal will be voted upon by the Members of the European Parliament in autumn 2019 and if passed, will be a big setback to the vegan industry as they would be required to remove the word burger from any product that does not contain meat.

In the USA, a Dairy Pride Act, which requires FDA to stop all plant-based dairy alternatives from being labeled as ‘milk’, was reintroduced in Congress in March 2019 (after being squashed earlier in 2017). While the chances of the bill being passed remain slim, if passed, it could seriously dampen growth in the vegan dairy market in the USA. Most of these legal actions are likely to have stemmed from strong meat and dairy lobbies that are directly impacted by the growth witnessed in the vegan market.

EOS Perspective

There is no doubt that the plant-based food market is growing exponentially and the food industry is taking notice. Meat producers and animal-based dairy companies are currently at a fork, where they may face some level of cannibalization of sales (especially in case of dairy) when they introduce vegan alternatives to their portfolio. The cases of Kodak and Apple are important examples when discussing the prospects of cannibalization of sales. While Kodak failed to innovate at the time of camera digitalization due to a fear of cannibalizing sales of its then popular camera films, Apple has made this one of its strength by innovating and launching new products that have (to an extent) cannibalized its own sales (IPhone for IPods and IPad for Mac).

While most players in the food industry have been quick to understand the potential of plant-based food market and have started to invest in this segment, several others still remain resistant to change. This may cost them dearly. Moreover, evaluating the future prospects of this industry, it may be prudent for meat producers to be focusing more on their plant-based food section than their long existing meat business. In a first of its kind case, in May 2019, Vivera Foodgroup, a leading European meat company sold off its meat business retailed under the brand name, Enkco, to Netherland-based Van Loon Group so that it could solely focus on its vegan food line.

However, while plant-based foods seem to be the future now, things may stir up again when clean meat (also known as lab-grown meat) goes mainstream. Currently, a lot of industry players (such as Tyson Foods) and business tycoons (such as Bill Gates) have begun investing in companies that are researching and developing lab-grown meat. It is expected to become a reality very soon, however, it may still take some years for lab-grown meat to match the prices and volume of farmed animal meat as well as obtain the required regulatory approval. While clean meat will definitely upset sales of farmed meat, it may also have a considerable impact on the plant-based food market as several consumers (who turned to vegan options due to animal cruelty and environmental reasons), may switch to clean meat instead of vegan alternatives. Thus vegan companies must stay ahead of the curve in terms of pricing as well flavors and product range to not only thrive but also survive in the coming times.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China Beefs up Meat Consumption Guidelines, but Chickens out of Action

Several decades ago, meat consumption was seen as luxury by the Chinese. Fast forward to today, meat (especially pork) has seeped into the diet of the everyday Chinese man to such an extent that today China consumes 28% of world’s total meat, including half of its pork. While this showcases immense income growth, the flip-side are the escalating environmental and health issues attributed to meat consumption. This has prompted China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) to issue new guidelines which ask the Chinese people to reduce meat consumption from about 60-63kg/year to about 14-27kg/year by 2030. However, without any actionable initiatives from the government (be it in the form of investments or taxes), these recommendations are not likely make a strong dent in the surging meat consumption levels.

China has witnessed a steep growth rate in meat consumption, which soared from a mere 13kg/person in 1982 to about 63kg/person in 2016. If the current trends continue, it is predicted that by 2030, the average Chinese man will eat close to 93kg/person if suitable measures are not taken to halt this growth. Owing to these consumption levels, China is one of the largest contributors to livestock agriculture-created greenhouse gases. The predicted rise in meat intake in China (by 2030) is likely to add another 233million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere on a yearly basis. Moreover, China’s growing love for meat has also contributed to an exponential rise in the number diabetes and obesity cases, with more than 100 million Chinese suffering from diabetes at present.

To combat these growing concerns, NHFPC issued new guidelines in 2016, urging the Chinese population to reduce their meat intake to 40-75 grams per day, which translates to about 14-27kg/year from the current rate of 63kg/year, thereby aiming to reduce the meat intake to less than half by 2030. Along with these recommendations, the government has also undertaken some measures to achieve the recommended consumption levels, however, a few of them seem rather shallow to lead to the desired change.

The government, along with few NGOs such as WildAid, are trying to create awareness regarding the new guidelines. International celebrities, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, have featured in videos hailing this government action and urging Chinese people to adopt vegetarianism. Moreover, the government has introduced health education in school curriculum and is promoting “health as a habit” to push life expectancy from 75 years to 79 years. A part of this campaign is to promote healthy eating and eating less meat and more vegetables.

At the same time, however, the government has been cutting down subsidies for small-scale pig farmers as well as formulating stricter environmental regulations, in order to push backyard pig farmers to either expand and clean their operations or exit the market. However, instead of curbing the industry growth, this may only result in strengthening the operations of larger players and may also lead to market consolidation.

While the government’s latest recommendations seem necessary, albeit ambitious, given the level of current actions, they seem far from sufficient to realistically curb demand for meat in the growing economy. As per local experts, NHFPC’s guidelines have received limited coverage by the media, especially in livestock-heavy regions of Shandong, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia. China has strong cultural traditions attached to meat-eating (such as the Yulin Dog Meat festival and the Double Ninth festival), which makes it difficult to initiate change in eating habits. Moreover, at the time when the government should initiate import restrictions and taxes to curb supply of meat (which may lead to price rise and in turn probably contract demand and consumption), the government has recently re-allowed beef imports from the USA, which is clearly a counter-productive move.

This is not the first time the Chinese government attempts to deal with the issue of rising meat consumption, and if the authorities follow the same approach as before, those past efforts might be a strong indicator that the new guidelines will have a very limited impact. In 2007, the government issued similar guidelines restricting meat consumption to 50-75g a day (i.e. 18-27kg/year), however, the government failed miserably in achieving these targets, as apart from publishing the guidelines, it took no real action. Unless the government moves away from this passive, and evidently failed, approach, meat consumption is likely to continue to soar.

China Beefs up Meat Consumption Guidelines, but Chickens out of Action by EOS Intelligence

 

EOS Perspective

NHFPC’s guidelines seem to be a step in the right direction, however, in the absence of a larger and more concrete government action, these recommendations do not come across as anything more than a formality undertaken by the country’s government to please global climate campaigners. While the government announced an infusion of US$450 billion into the country’s agriculture system in September 2016, its seriousness towards these guidelines will be determined by how much of this sum will be apportioned (if any) to programs encouraging vegetarianism.

Since meat (pork/beef/poultry/sheep) farming is a large industry in China, providing key dietary ingredients for the population at large, a sudden increase in taxes or a cut down of major subsidies may not be possible. However, the government can work to fuel the desired dietary changes in a phased fashion, e.g. by starting to reduce meat imports by imposing restrictions, while simultaneously working on reducing people’s dependence on meat by promoting vegetarianism as a healthier as of life.

Although these actions may seem far-fetched, few local and large players are strategizing their future plans, mindful of these recommendations and the increased health awareness as a potential outcome of these initiatives. Since pork is the most widely used type of meat, it is likely that the intake of traditional pork dishes would be impacted the most by any actions taken by the government. Keeping this is mind, WH Group (a leading pork processing company) has already started expanding its focus to western-style products such as ham and sausages. The company expects a growing demand for such American-style foods that come with much higher margins, allowing to compensate for the potential loss of sales volume of the unprocessed, traditional cuts. The company is also diversifying into other meats, including leaner beef and lamb in their product mix, in anticipation of the growing health awareness trend.

On a final note, these guidelines alone definitely do not seem enough to stir a change in the Chinese population’s eating habits but the fact of the matter is that a change is required. It may take another decade and much greater initiatives from the government’s end to reduce the local people’s meat intake, but considering the global trend towards meat consumption reduction and the growing environmental and health concerns, it is likely that sooner or later, China will get there too. Now it remains to see if the meat farming and processing companies employ a wait-and-watch approach or proactively start investing and working towards change.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Horse Meat Scandal That Has Nothing To Do With Horse Meat. Have We Been Fooled On Our Own Request?

In early 2013, an uninvited equine guest was found on several European beef-only plates, giving way to a series of accusations, finger-pointing and investigations. Meat adulteration scandal has now spread to allegedly involve slaughter houses, suppliers and meat-based food producers from across Europe, with names of France, Ireland, Romania, Poland, Germany and the UK popping up on the news. Regardless of the authorities’ investigation outcome, one thing stays for sure – the consumers’ trust in the meat processing industry, already not very strong, has been further shaken.

While DNA tests confirmed horse meat presence in several beef products (in some cases even 100% horse meat in supposedly 100% beef dishes), there is no certainty yet on how horse meat entered the food chain. And the problem is not just with horse meat, as pork was also found in beef-only products, with further investigation for donkey meat as well. Horse meat, as well as pork and donkey, are edible, and does not cause harm to humans per se, but the problem is big – it is consumer misinformation as well as the fact that since horse meat should not be found in beef products at all, we don’t know whether it met any safety standards. The scale and spread of the scandal may suggest that it was not a one-off case of a dishonest supplier, but rather a silent, probably not infrequent industry practice of deliberate product mislabeling.

Consumers are outraged at the ‘evil meat producers’ responsible for the malpractice. They announce their shaken trust in meat processing industry (and food industry in general). But this smells of hypocrisy on the consumer’s side as well. Majority of consumers across most markets (apart from a small health-conscious group) have long taught food producers one fundamental truth – price is the most important factor in their purchasing decisions, driving producers to take shortcuts wherever possible. While there is no justification for the malpractice and deliberate fraud, food producers and suppliers are oriented at cutting costs to deliver products at the demanded price yet still maintain margins. Same is true across other industries – we openly condemn child and underpaid labor in several Asian manufacturing centers, yet continue to demand extremely low prices on electronics, apparel, etc., knowing where and how it’s been produced (or conveniently forgetting about it at the time of purchase).

The consequences of the scandal around meat products are likely to go beyond a temporary dip in processed beef products sales. Early surveys in some of the European countries, such as UK, indicated that close to 1/3 adult consumers said they want to buy less processed meat (not only beef), indicating potentially harder times for producers across meat segments. This is likely to spike consumer interest in fish and seafood products. However, the changed meat demand dynamics might not necessarily lead to the lowering of meat prices, as more stringent safety and control procedures might allow prices to remain stable. The rapid, and in some cases unfair, finger-pointing towards suppliers from Central and Eastern Europe will continue to damage meat exports of these countries, unjustly affecting farmers and suppliers. Consequences will also include added effort by supermarket chains to rebuild the shaken trust in meat products, i.e. Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, for instance, will re-test meat products to ensure compliance and launching widespread reassurance campaigns; these will add to cost burden to the chains – costs that are eventually going to be passed onto the consumers.

It will be a difficult time for producers and suppliers found guilty of introducing horse meat to the human food chain, as under the pressure of public opinion, authorities aren’t likely to be easy on them. But meat producers who are able to be transparent and honest about their procurement and processing procedures, can actually benefit from the scandal, as more and more consumers will look beyond price and start to value quality (at least temporarily till the memory of the scandal is fresh).

So as the scandal unfolds, there are a few important questions here: Will it improve transparency of the supply chains in meat processing industry? Will it improve the quality of meat products we purchase and feed our families with? Will it force the authorities across Europe to improve control measures? Will it enforce correct labeling of products? And finally, will it make us, consumers, permanently shift our focus from price only to quality-oriented purchases? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, perhaps there is a silver lining to this scandal after all.

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