Plant-Based Proteins

2018-04-20 09:00:00 Jimbin Mai, Ph.D. 61

Last month we discussed about the trendy human nutrition topics.  Among them, protein appeared to be one of the most important and hot item in different areas of human nutrition such as sport nutrition, weight management, and health & wellness.  This month we are to focus on the plant-based proteins.

According to Lux Research, plant-based protein could represent one-third of overall protein by 2054.  Introduction of new products with plant-based proteins grew 14.7% in 2014 as compared to that of animal protein at 7.5% by Innova Market Insights.  U.S. sales of plant-based proteins were $553 million in 2012, according to Mintel.  The global plant-based protein market is projected to reach to $5 billion by 2020 as reported by Markets and Markets.  The plant-based food sector experienced overall growth of 8.1% since 2017 as compared to a decline of 0.2% of all foods sold in the same channel, according to Nielsen.

The plant-based milk category has grown 3.1% last year while cow’s milk sales experienced decrease of 5% as by Nielsen.  U.S. sales of almond milk topped $1 billion in 2014 as reported by Packaged Facts.  Globally, dairy alternatives market is predicted to be worth $19.5 billion by 2020.  

Consumers want plant-based products.  About 36% of consumers buy plant-based meats and 60% of the millennials consume plant-based meats according to a survey conducted by 210 Analytics.  About 26% of consumers reported eating less animal meat in the past 12 months according to Nutrition Business Journal.  Nowadays about 36% of consumers prefer plant-based milks.

Most importantly, plant-based is better for the environment.  Producing plant-based meat alternatives generates 10X less greenhouse gas emissions than producing similar beef-based products.  Producing 1 Kg of kidney bean protein requires 18X less land, 10X less water, 9X less fuel, 12X less fertilizer and 10X less pesticides than producing 1 Kg of beef protein, according to study by Sabate et al.  Plant-based eaters contribute approximately half as much dietary greenhouse gases as meat-eaters.  It takes 10g of vegetable protein to create every 1g of animal protein according to a study by Reijnders et al.

If beans replaced beef in the US diet, the US could meet up to 75% of its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target as reported by Helen Harwatt et. Al.  Substituting beans for beef in the US diet would free up 42% of US cropland or 400 million square acres, or 1.6 times the size of California.

When the meatpacking giant Cargill sold off its last cattle feedlots in April 2017, it said that it wanted to free up funds to invest in alternatives like insects and plant-based protein.  Four months later, along with Bill Gates and Richard Branson, the company joined a $17 million round of investment in Memphis Meats, a startup that grows beef and chicken from cells instead of farms.   Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., was part of a $55 million round of investment in Beyond Meat.  Nestle acquired Sweet Earth Foods, which sells products like “Harmless Ham” and “Benevolent Bacon”.  Maple Leaf Foods strong in the meat product categories acquired Lightlife, a company that makes products like “Chick’n” and plant-based hot dogs.  

Newer companies in the industry, such as Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats, aren’t targeting vegetarians with their products; instead, their burgers are designed to appeal to meat eaters who are concerned about issues like the carbon footprint of beef, or the overuse of antibiotics on farms.  Companies like Morning Star Farm that have been around longer, making veggie burgers for a niche market, are also realizing that their products can evolve.  Technology is making meatless meat truly realistic and will continue to improve.

When Impossible Burgers are compared against Beyond Burgers side by side, a reporter testified both were extremely good and couldn’t tell them from the regular burgers.  I tried to buy the Beyond Burgers from Wegman’s and cooked them at home and served them to my family members of four.  Everybody liked the burgers.  Beyond Meats distributed in 19,000 retail stores while Impossible Burgers are sold in burger outlets like TGIF’s.  It just got another round of investment total up to $40 million.

As for plant based milks, almost all the major beverage brands are having their products on the shelf.  There are coconut milk, peanut milk, soy milk, pea milk, cashew milk, walnut milk and almond milk, etc.  During my time in the soy milk industry, the milk industry lobbied that the standard identity of milk is sacred and the other protein beverages to be called milk should meet the nutritional profile of milk before they can be called milk or they should be called milk drinks.  The Just Mayo court battle is well known between Unilever’s Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Hampton Creek Foods.  FDA seemed to loosen up the standard of identity quite a bit.  For consumer buying plant-based milk, I urge you read the nutritional labels.  Usually, I won’t buy almond, walnut, coconut or cashew milk, their proteins are extremely low per serving of 8 oz. as compared to true milk.

Talk to you next month!

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