30.03.2021 |

Europe and US to reach 'peak meat’ by 2025, study

Plant-based burger (Photo: CC0)

The market for plant-based alternatives to meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood products is booming: Europe and North America could reach “peak meat” by 2025 – the point at which the consumption of conventional animal proteins begins to decrease. This would have significant environmental benefits, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation (BHC). The study, published on March 23rd, shows that the market for alternative proteins will grow from currently 13 million metric tons a year to 97 million by 2035. Alternative proteins would then account for 11% of the protein market, up from 2% in 2020. If there are more supportive policies and regulations, such as widespread taxation of greenhouse gas emissions or reallocation of agricultural subsidies to support the transition to alternative proteins, the share could be higher. “The final domino could fall if regulators give it a push. Higher carbon prices and support for farmers transitioning from animal agriculture to alternative-protein inputs could boost consumption to 22% by 2035,” the study finds. “At that rate, Europe and North America would reach “peak meat” by 2025, and then the consumption of animal protein in those markets would actually begin to decline.” The growth rate of conventional-protein consumption in the rest of the world will slow, but total consumption will not yet decline.

According to the analysts, the key to consumer acceptance is parity. Alternative proteins must taste and feel as good as the conventional foods they replace and cost either the same or less. “We expect parity to spur a new wave of growth, catapulting what is a fairly nascent market today into the mainstream, yielding significant environmental benefits, and facilitating even faster growth,” said Benjamin Morach, a BCG managing director. The findings suggest that alternative proteins will soon reach parity with animal proteins but the date depends on the source of alternative proteins and the product to be replaced. Plant-based alternatives such as burgers, dairy, and egg substitutes made from soy, pea, and other proteins will achieve parity in 2023 or earlier. Alternative proteins made from microorganisms like fungi, yeasts, and single-celled algae could match animal protein in taste, texture, and price by 2025. Alternatives grown directly from animal cells will catch up by 2032.

The adoption of alternative proteins will have a measurable positive impact on the environment, supporting a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including responsible consumption and production (SDG 11) and zero hunger (SDG 2). The shift to plant-based meat and eggs alone would save more than 1 gigaton of CO2 equivalent by 2035. That is the equivalent of Japan becoming carbon-neutral for an entire year. Compared with conventional animal-based proteins, production of plant-based alternatives emits one-eighth the CO2-e per kilogram for chicken, one-third for eggs, one-twelfth for beef, and one-ninth for pork, the authors write. Switching to alternatives would also save 39 billion cubic meters of water, enough to supply the city of London for 40 years. In addition, more than 240,000 square kilometers of farmland that are used to grow animals and their feed, would become available – an area as large as the UK. This space will be freed up over the next 15 years, increasing biodiversity as land formerly used for intensive agriculture reverts to a more natural state.

The question remains who will benefit from the boom in alternative proteins. At the moment, the big players in the market are mainly the major incumbent meat companies which are “already redefining themselves as ‘protein’ companies, making and marketing their own alternatives,” the authors explain. US meat giant Tyson Foods and Germany’s Rügenwalder Mühle have their own alternative-protein brands. The market for alternative meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood products is set to reach at least $290 billion by 2035. This might also be the reason why the consulting firms are interested in the topic of alternative products. The authors stress that investors have much to gain from the protein transformation. “The alternative protein arena is wide open, and progress is happening fast. There is a real opportunity here for investors to make their moves early and become integral players in the future of food,” said BHC managing partner and CEO, Björn Witte. (ab)

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