How’s the plant-based protein sector been doing lately? Depending on who you ask, it’s a mixed bag. Privately-held Impossible Foods insists it’s going gangbusters, and further success with restaurant chains here and across the pond in the U.K. underscores the company’s performance. But elsewhere, some doubts have been sowed. A test marketing run of a plant-based sandwich at McDonald’s ended quietly earlier this month, and Beyond Meat, which had partnered with the Golden Arches on that pilot, has struggled as of late.
The challenges that some plant-based food brands are confronting have nudged analysts to tamp down their forecasts about the growth of what was once a small market niche. Generally, projections had seen growth for the plant-based protein market to reach about $50 billion by the end of this decade; previous analyses were far more buoyant, including one concluding a value of $150 billion by 2030 and another even predicting a $290 billion market by 2035. Now, such expectations are overall much lower. A more recent crunching of the numbers expects a $34.5 billion market by 2032, and this same report suggests that plant-based protein will wrap up sales this year with a value of almost $11 billion by the end of this year.
Plant-based protein is now facing a bumpy road
That $11 billion sum is still quite a number that didn’t seem possible a decade ago, but players within the plant-based market will need to rollout new products that can dazzle and impress consumers if they expect further growth. Even Impossible Foods, arguably the most successful and recognized plant-based protein brand by far, is gravitating more toward the word “beef” instead of “burger” on some of its products to nudge and remind customers that the company’s products is far more versatile than something that needs to be tucked between a brioche bun or lettuce leaves.
To that end, watch for the next plant-based protein trend to take on the Mercedes, the Ducati, the Bulgari, the iPhone 14 of the meat world: steak, especially the more popular and pricier cuts.
One such company is Nasoya, which sells strips that resemble Korean galbi or bulgogi. Nasoya boasts that its faux steak product only includes four “core” ingredients: water, soy, oil and a basic sauce for flavoring.
But what about folks who don’t want strips or nuggets to sauté in a pan, but want something sizable, even realistic, to show off their grilling skills?
Three plant-based ‘steaks’ to watch
First, there’s Juicy Marbles, which offers a plant-based filet mignon that the Slovenia-based company says closely mimics the texture and marbling of a cut of beef. The company has a tenderloin alternative in the works, and Juicy Marbles executive team says its technology will at some point soon allow it to produce these plant-based “steaks” at scale. Reviews so far have been mixed: admiration at the audacity to try to pull off a fake steak, though reviews on news sites such as The Verge says the texture could use some improvement.
Another emerging player in the plant-based steak race is British Columbia-based Urbani. A third-generation family-owned company that has long sold salami and other Italian-inspired foods, the company is pivoting toward plant-based protein, specifically its “Misteak,” which it expects to roll out later this year. The company’s first fake meat venture was an imitation jerky launched a few years ago.
For those seeking a middle ground on plant-based steak — maybe they seek the texture but don’t want to be disappointed with an analogue that doesn’t meet expectations on the grill, Meati has an option. The protein-rich, mushroom-based steak alternative sears quickly and has scored solid reviews for those craving foods like cheesesteaks but without the guilt or environmental impact. The company has won over investors, too, with an impressive fundraising round earlier this year. Consumers are buying in: As of press time, all of Meati’s options were sold out.
Image credit via Pixabay
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.