Beyond Burger - © Beyond Meat

Has The Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Bubble Burst?

I was surprised as all get-out to see that plant-based meat substitute pioneer Beyond Foods‘sales plunged by almost a third during the second quarter of this year. Industry observers say price is the pivot point for many consumers…

Beyond Burger - © foodnavigator-usa com

Price inequality persists

One of the criticisms of plant-based meat substitutes when they first hit the market a few years ago was their price. They were significantly costlier than real meat equivalents. But we were assured they would settle down once the economics of mass production kicked in. Trouble is, they’re still priced well above real meat. And that’s become a real issue for millions of could-be customers as they struggle to put food on their tables.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Beyond is ‘testing’ cuts on its core products bringing in their retail prices at or below those of real meat equivalents. It’s too early to tell if that move will produce the desired results.

Consumer skepticism lingers

Another factor in Beyond’s sales slump may be new doubts about the wholesomeness of its products.

Beyond CEO Ethan Brown said, in a conference call to investors, “This change in perception is not without encouragement from interest groups who have succeeded in seeding doubt and fear around the ingredients and process used to create our and other plant-based meats.”

But Brown also says, Beyond is fighting back. The company is launching a new ad campaign emphasizing its ‘clear and simple’ manufacturing process and pointing out to consumers ITS products’ well-established health and wholesomeness certifications.

“We’re going to be much more aggressive in our marketing,” Brown announced. “It is an education issue. The facts are there. The health benefits of our products are very strong.”

Shares take a licking

Meanwhile, whatever the cause, Beyond’s shares have taken a beating, losing 10 percent of their value. This after the company revised their revenue forecast for 2023 down by about the same amount from initial expectations. Early estimates came in at about (US)$415 million. Now, Beyond says it’s expecting to haul in no more than about (US)$380 million this year.

Is Beyond in danger of collapsing altogether? No one is saying anything like that – yet.

My take

There are two parallel streams in the plant-based food world. One is occupied by processed meat alternative makers such as Beyond. The other is the home-based, ‘grassroots’ stream populated by home cooks and creative restaurant chefs.

The basic ingredients that supply both streams may be similar. But the self-imposed requirement to mimic the appearance and flavour of real meat has become a handicap for the alternative processors.

Economists agree that we, as a civilization, will have to turn to plant-based foods soon. Producing real meats is quickly becoming non-sustainable.

The financial gurus also predict that meat alternatives such as Beyond’s will prove to be bridging products, easing the transition of the masses from real meat to true vegetarian and vegan diets.

Can this be accomplished soon enough to meet the climate change imposed challenge of making the switch by 2050? Food industry observers point out that more than 2 billion people around the globe already follow vegetarian or vegan diets daily. And they enjoy side benefits including less obesity, cancer and type 2 diabetes as a result.

It doesn’t seem to me to be such a long stretch to follow their example.

~ Maggie J.