One meat, two meat, “green” meat, no meat. Dr. Seuss could have written a fantastic book about the wild ride that is the development of meat alternatives. Consumers, who are environmentally minded, are looking for options that have lower carbon footprints and, in their minds, are more animal-friendly.
The approach to reproducing the flavors and textures of meat while keeping the price reasonable has been multi-pronged. The challenge of meat alternatives stems from reducing the environmental demand of producing meat while maintaining the integrity of the product. In other words, it’s hard to make non-meat taste like meat.
Certainly, upstart companies attempting to find the perfect balance of alternative products are running into some challenges matching the price and flavor of the meat product.
Plant based veggie-burger options have notoriously left consumers wanting for the meaty flavor and texture of beef. That acknowledgement by the alternative industry has sparked intense resource allocation to finding better plant alternatives and even encouraged research into “test-tube meats.”
One version of the new plant option from Impossible Foods Inc. uses potatoes, coconuts, and legumes to mimic beef products. Heme is a component of legume roots that can also be found in animal flesh, lending the product some similar flavors to beef. The Wall Street Journal reported that the flavor has been well received, but the price is still well above competitive levels with the Impossible Burger priced at $12 to $19 depending on the restaurant. Assuming that’s for a quarter-pound burger, that’s $48 to $76 per pound. Comparatively, animal meat runs well below $5 per pound.
Cell-cultured meat has also received attention recently as it could provide an alternative that uses a fraction of the water required to raise beef. That being said the price-per-pound is clearly not at a marketable level yet. Memphis Meats is one company working in this arena, and The Wall Street Journal reported their costs of production at $18,000 per pound.Meat alternatives remain on the horizon, but they may one day be a formidable competitor to animal options. If the experience of milk alternatives is anything to judge by, it will be important for the traditional meat market to continually reinvigorate conversation about the benefits of red meats and the role production livestock plays in the environment.
The author is an associate editor. She covers feeding and nutrition, youth activities and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. Maggie was raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.