As the Chinese “Year of the Pig” comes to a close, alternative meat producers look forward to enjoying a robust year of alternative pork. The latest soy-based meat alternative will soon be served up as a plant-based sausage patty breakfast sandwich at 139 Burger King locations across the United States. After the success of the Impossible Whopper, which boosted sales and brought new customers into Burger King locations, Impossible Foods is now releasing Impossible Pork as an alternative that cooks, looks and tastes like real pork.
The rise of alternative meat stems from both supply chain issues and increasing consumer demand. Opportunistic alternative meat producers are jumping into the void caused by African Swine Fever (AFS). At the same time consumers across the globe are clamoring for food that is better for their bodies, and the environment.
By some estimates, AFS has killed half of all pigs in the world in recent years. The disease is far from being contained, with only experimental vaccines currently under development. But out of this crisis has emerged an opportunity for companies like Impossible Foods and other players in the plant-based protein sector including Beyond Meat.
The Good Food Institute is one nonprofit which supports plant-based companies. Caroline Bushnell, the associate director of The Good Food Institute’s corporate engagement, stated that “this current pork shortage has created a gap that the next generation of plant-based pork is perfectly poised to fill."
The pork shortage, Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown agrees, is enticing many companies to put “a lot of effort into expanding into international markets, particularly in Asia, where pork is the dominant meat product.” In addition to the sausage patty breakfast sandwich debuting at Burger Kings in the United States, Impossible is rolling out Asian dishes from dumplings and noodles to dim sum and bao sandwiches.
Impossible Foods’ main competitor, Beyond Meat, sees the same opportunity “to produce and sell pork dumplings, for example, in Asia,” said Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown. He called the current opportunity “significant and not one that's lost on us.”
At the same time as the global pork supply is at a low, consumers are eager for more ethically-sourced food and a healthier diet.
Impossible CEO Pat Brown maintains that AFS’ impact on the pork supply chain was not the catalyst for Impossible developing plant-based pork. However, he told CNN that AFS has “exacerbated the demand for a product like ours.”
The Good Food Institute found that pork alternatives sales grew almost 15 percent in the U.S. from May 2018 to April 2019. One major vegan pork alternative is jackfruit, sales of which were up nearly 20 percent.
Consumers looking out for their own health have good reason to switch to meatless pork alternatives. Real pork sausage contains more fat and calories than Impossible Sausage, and the two have a similar quantity of protein.
While some consumers are primarily interested in their own body and health, others go meatless for the planet’s sake. Beyond Meat knows this well, as the company’s mission statement lists climate change right after human health as one of the world’s top four issues. With animal agriculture responsible for up to 15 percent of global emissions, many consumers feel meatless alternatives will allow them to align their eating habits with their personal emissions goals.
Whether consumers are motivated by a healthier diet or a livable planet, alternative meats are becoming an increasingly appetizing option to diners.
The Good Food Institute’s Bushnell predicts “an explosion in the number of plant-based pork options available over the next couple of years.” She isn’t alone, as Barclays recently predicted the sector’s sales could approach $140 billion over the next decade, or 10 percent of the global meat industry.
Image credit: Impossible Foods
Greg Heilers writes on green business and sustainability for private clients and top publications. After graduating from university, he had the privilege to learn from opportunities in France, Palestine, Scotland, Guatemala and the USA. Today, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and enjoys any chance he gets to garden or hike.