Meat-Free Product Sales Are Rising as Meat Consumption Falls

This post originally appeared on TriplePundit.com

Employees at The Valley Hospital in New Jersey celebrate Meatless Monday

With the annual Food Day approaching, it’s hard to overlook the fact that people seem to be thinking more about where their food comes from every day. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food and a day of awareness about these issues couldn’t be more important.

What we eat has deep implications, and in the last several years, socially responsible businesses have started taking an active role in addressing those implications. Many are creating policies to improve the welfare of animals in their supply chains, reducing GHG emissions or purchasing only from suppliers that pay workers fair wages. And there’s one area that’s gaining traction by the day: meat reduction. Some savvy businesses have noticed a decreasing demand for meat and are creating new products to meet every meat-free need. Others are using the popular Meatless Monday program to improve employee wellness or to encourage customers to eat healthier by cutting out meat one day a week.

Eating Our Veggies

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post said earlier this year, “Meat eating in the United States is going out of style.” Klein was referring to USDA statistics that projected U.S. consumers would eat 12 percent less meat in 2012 than just five years ago.

What’s the driver for this decline?  USA Today says many Americans are reducing meat consumption out of concern for their health and the environment as well as rising meat prices. A Harvard study that came out this year found that replacing meat with high-protein plant sources could reduce mortality rates by as much as 11 percent. And according to the United Nations, meat production is one of the top contributors to climate change, due to its high carbon dioxide and methane emissions and vast use of water, land and fossil fuels. People also want to prevent animal cruelty. Factory farms, where the vast majority of our meat, eggs and dairy come from, have a notorious reputation for inhumanely confining millions of animals in crates and cages where they can barely move.

Whatever the reason, vegetarian eating is on the rise:

A 2011 poll from food industry research and consulting firm, Technomic, found that twenty-one percent of U.S. college students are limiting meat consumption, sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet, or eating meat only occasionally.

Polling by Bon Appétit Management Company, which operates dining services at hundreds of colleges nationwide, found that the number of college vegans had doubled in that four year period, and the number of vegetarians rose by 50 percent.

And in an announcement that made national headlines, last year the University of North Texas in Denton opened the nation’s first all-vegan dining hall, resulting in a 20 percent rise in voluntary meal plan sales.

Meatless Momentum

Started during WWI by the U.S. government as a resource-saving measure, and revived in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday promotes replacing meat with non-meat foods one day a week for our health and the health of the planet.

The program has mushroomed in recent years with support from big names like Oprah Winfrey—who implemented it at Harpo Studios—and Sodexo, a food service provider that’s participating at more than 2,000 hospitals and colleges nationwide.

Restaurants are also getting in on the game by offering new meatless options. A cover feature in Nation’s Restaurant News proclaimed “Veggie-heavy brands see growth in sales, popularity with consumers” and concluded with restaurant exec Aviv Schweitzer’s thoughts: “Is the country ready for a national vegetarian chain? I think it’s a fact; it’s not really a question anymore.”

This surge in demand has caused new meat-free products to pop up regularly. Beyond Meat, a new product financed in part by Twitter founder, Biz Stone, was so popular that a California grocery store sold out its entire week’s supply in just 48 hours. Another meat alternate that emulates the taste and texture of meat, Gardein, is now sold in the frozen section of Target stores nationwide.

Whether to reduce their carbon footprints, their waistlines, or the number of animals suffering on factory farms, one thing is clear: people are eating more meat-free meals than ever. And whether it’s corporate cafeterias participating in Meatless Monday to help keep healthcare costs down, restaurants adding new vegetarian options to menus, or manufacturers developing new meat-free products, savvy companies can bite into this market opportunity in a major way.

Paella with vegan shrimp and sausage

On a trip to Spain in 2002, I recall eating a beautifully presented paella. I also recall trying to explain to the waiter that we did not want shrimp, fish, or sausage in it, which to him was simply incomprehensible. This colorful paella was made with vegan shrimp from Sophie’s Kitchen and Field Roast brand vegan sausage. These days, there’s almost nothing you can’t find in a vegan version.

Sophie’s Kitchen got its start because the owner was looking for an allergen-free alternative to seafood for her daughter. There are other good reasons to avoid eating sea creatures as well: like overfishing, which, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization , “is putting heavy pressure on the world’s shrimp stocks … and causing significant environmental harm.

Available in Whole Foods and other large natural stores, Sophie’s Kitchen’s products are all-vegan and free from most common allergens, like soy.

Wild blackberry scones

There are ripe blackberries everywhere right now.  I see them as I walk down the street, along sidewalks, when I’m sitting at stoplights and driving down the highway. Most of them are out of reach or likely covered in highway soot, but there’s a path in my neighborhood where they grow that’s sparsely traveled. I’ve been waiting for them to ripen for weeks.

This morning I made blackberry scones using this recipe and substituting milk for soy milk and butter for Earth Balance and added some lemon zest. The sourness of the berries is offset by the sweetness of the scones. They’re best when piping hot.

Rise and shine, it’s breakfast (biscuit) time

An early phone call got me out of bed at a much earlier hour that I’d normally be. I took the extra time to make a scarce weekday morning breakfast. On the menu: vegan sausage biscuits with a side of muskmelon. The biscuits are delicious, yet quick and easy. A great menu item to impress guests. Vegan sausage biscuits also travel well. Make the dough the night before a road trip and bake in the morning while you’re packing for just-out-of-the-oven warm biscuits that you can wrap in foil. You’ll want to devour every crumb.

I used The Vegan Kitchen’s biscuit recipe and Yves meatless sausage patties which are ready after two minutes in the microwave.

Tastes like chicken

Today NPR Food Blog, The Salt, featured a piece about Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, a new plant-based meat company. Brown grew up on a farm and attributes spending time with animals as a child as his inspiration to create meat-free alternatives to meat.

Over the last few years there have been several new vegetarian meat companies entering the market. Gardein is perhaps the most notable and a personal favorite. You can cook it like you would meat, using the same techniques and sauces and it has a good meat-like flavor, but it’s probably not going to fool most people. It’s also a little on the pricey side, with a bag of “Beef-less Tips” costing anywhere between $4-$5. That’s enough to make a meal for two (depending on what else is involved in your meal of course).

Unique about Brown’s company are two things. First, according to the NPR story and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has also written about Beyond Meat, the product really does taste like chicken. Bittman wrote, “When you take Brown’s product, cut it up and combine it with, say, chopped tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise with some seasoning in it, and wrap it in a burrito, you won’t know the difference between that and chicken. I didn’t, at least, and this is the kind of thing I do for a living.”

Equally important is that Brown’s product is efficient to make. The product, made of pea and soy powder, carrot fiber, and flour, takes about fifteen seconds to make. And Brown’s goal is to sell it for the same price as, or less than meat, making it accessible to a wide consumer group. Given how resource intensive it is to produce meat, this sort of product could really have a huge impact on the environment, not to mention the nearly ten billion animals slaughtered in the U.S. alone each year. Beyond Meat is expected to be sold starting next month in Northern California. I can’t wait to try it!