Plant based meat: an industry full of potential

For anyone who's been food shopping over the last few years (so everyone), you’ll have noticed supermarket shelves slowly filling up with plant based produce...

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Ten years ago, perusing the refrigerated aisles of your favourite supermarket, you would be engulfed by a sea of poultry, beef, and pork. There would be rows upon rows of chicken thighs, breasts, and legs. It was, for meat lovers, a paradise.

Fast forward to 2021, and although fridges still have plenty of meat in them, there’s a new kid on the block, who’s slowly competing for more space.

Its name is plant-based meat, and as the number of vegans in the UK increased by 445,428 people (40%) over the past 12 months, and with over 13 million Brits predicted to be meat free by the end of 2021, it’s no wonder small businesses are moving into the plant-based meat industry.

With huge potential to capitalise in the vegan meat market, companies like Meatless Farm, THIS, and The Curators have been seizing the exciting opportunities presented by the increasing popularity of plant-based meats.

So what exactly is plant-based, or vegan, meat? Is the industry really growing? And how are small businesses capitalizing within this space?

Time to find out…

What are the roots of plant based meat?

Without getting too technical, let’s summarise the key points of plant-based meat.

What is plant based meat?

Plant based meats are essentially food products that use plant ingredients to imitate the flavours and textures of meat.

Originally, food products like tofu and tempeh were eaten as alternatives to meat. Instead of cooking with beef, or chicken, one would use tofu, whether that be a lifestyle, or environmentally conscious, choice.

However, as our tastes have changed over time, consumer demand for more realistic meat alternatives has increased. This has led to the creation of plant-based meat – designed to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of real meat.

What ingredients are in plant-based meat alternatives?

A lot of vegan meats directly mimic our favourite meat products, including sausages, burgers, and even chicken dippers. They do this by using a variety of ingredients, including:

  • Vegetable protein
  • Vital wheat gluten or seitan
  • Coconut oil
  • Beans
  • Spices
  • Soy
  • Beet juice extract
  • Rice

Each ingredient serves a particular purpose in imitating either the texture, taste, or appearance of meat.

Did you know?

Beet juice is typically added to vegan burgers to mimic the red, bloody appearance of actual meat.

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The battle of the burgers – the colossus plant-based burger vs the goliath meat burger. But which one is which? 


Plant based meat industry – the facts

The burning question for small business owners and entrepreneurs considering venturing into the vegan meat industry is this: is there potential to grow?

The answer is yes, and these statistics explain why:

– Going meatless is becoming more popular every year, with vegans and vegetarians set to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.

– Consumer demand is changing, and as concerns grow for the negative impact the meat industry is having on the environment, so do the number of households drastically reducing their meat intake. Nielsen data from March 2021 revealed that over 27% of British households have replaced meals containing meat with vegan or vegetarian alternatives, at least once per week.

– Research by Mintel revealed that since 2014, sales of meat-free foods across the UK have grown an impressive 40% from £582 million to an estimated £816 million in 2019.

– Food delivery company Deliveroo’s vegan orders spiked by 163% over twelve months in 2020, hitting an all-time high in January 2021, when over 500,000 Brits signed up to Veganuary.

– 7.2 million British adults currently follow a meat-free diet, with that number expected to rise to 13 million by the end of 2021.

– In Europe, 40% of people are already reducing the amount of meat they eat (Source: BEUC, 2020).

– It is evident that younger generations are more concerned about the environment, and the health benefits of reducing their meat intake. Over a fifth of Gen Z (20%) already follow a meat-free diet, with a further 26% planning to drop meat altogether by the end of 2021, according to a report conducted by finder.com.

The future of the plant-based meat industry

When speaking to Startups, Shani Wright, Head of Global Media Relations at plant-based meat producers Heura Foods, offered exciting insight into the future of the vegan meat industry. She said:

The current global population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, according to the United Nations, and a plant-based diet is the most practical and sustainable solution to address feeding the world. In terms of competition, no matter what side of the fence you're on today, over the next few years, the plant-based meat category will continue to grow and eventually become meat´s successor. Leaders in the food system of tomorrow will need to stay focused on the ultimate goal - feeding the people of the world with healthy, sustainable meats. We're already seeing major players like Unilever and Tesco invest millions in plant-based meats, and it won't stop there. And like they say, rising tides raise all ships.

Consumer insight

Another fundamental factor to consider when contemplating the potential of starting a plant-based meat business is – how satisfied consumers currently are with the products available to them.

There is a correlation between vegan meat becoming more popular, products becoming tastier, and brands being more inventive.

So, for further insight, we asked two consumer experts to explain their opinions on plant-based meat:

Dr Sunni Patel – gut health influencer and clinician-scientist, who creates plant-based food recipes to share on his website Dishdashdeets:

Why do you like plant-based meat?

For me its a combination of factors:

  1. From an environmental perspective, it requires less square footage of land to produce than it does to make meat products
  2. From a food perspective, it allows people to still experience the umami flavours associated with meat and still have a similar taste profile to meat
  3. From a health perspective, some products if eaten in moderation are healthier and less inflammatory than eating meat products and a good source of protein

Do you believe plant-based meat is healthier than meat?

Some would say they are unhealthy as they are ‘processed’ and inherently have more ingredients than their meat counterpart.

However, we need to remember that most ingredients are included to fortify the product so it can be a source of B-vitamins and Iron. There is also research showing that a plant-based alternative to an 80g lean beef burger is lower in calories, has less saturated fat, cholesterol free, and can also have twice as much iron, and considerably more B12, Zinc and Calcium.

It is worth noting, though that the plant-based burger did have higher Sodium levels than the beef burger. There has also been evidence of better cholesterol levels in those eating plant-based compared to beef. So are they healthier, some of the evidence suggests it can be, but it is limited to date so I would say healthy if eaten in moderation.

What inspired you to start eating plant-based products? Are you vegetarian/vegan?

I am plant-based and having been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease for over 7 years and suffering quite badly with the symptoms I felt that a change in my diet was necessary in order for me to better manage my conditions and symptoms.

18 months on, since going plant based I feel better, more energetic, and have been able to have a better handle of my flare-ups and condition. Mentally it has also helped me as it allows me to be more creative in the kitchen and experiment with fruits and vegetables.

Alina Gromova-Jones, nutritional therapist and founder of plant-based restaurant Kojo:

What do you like about plant-based meat? 

When you think about plant-based meat you’re expecting something with a similar texture, taste and colour as meat. That includes the way you cook it. This is the quirk about these alternatives. There are so many brands to choose from, making it easier for people to find a product that fits them and their tastes. It’s nice to know that I can enjoy similar meals with friends & family, in a plant-based way, without feeling like I’m missing out.

Plant-based meats nowadays are more palatable. It’s a better alternative for the planet, our environment and health. If you are making the switch to plant-based, please make sure to speak to a nutritional therapist who can better advise where you can get zinc and iron if you’re removing meat from your diet.

What are your favourite products and brands?

There are plenty of new products and brands to choose from. As the Co-Founder of KOJO, a plant-based eatery, we are doing a lot for the plant-based movement. Our dishes are inspired by popular favourites made plant-based, and still remain accessible to every type of customer.

I have enjoyed trying and tasting different products. There is a really great tofu sausage I love, with a fantastic peppery taste to it. The tofu sausage is from Taifun. When you fry it, it develops a really crispy and beautiful texture on the outside. It’s a great size and really substantial.

My go to plant-based burger is from Neat Burger. I haven’t found a patty yet that I can cook at home, but I have a list of products that I am excited to try. Anything made from jackfruit I feel like you can’t go wrong. If you cook it right you can get a really great meaty texture.


Meet the vegan meat, plant-based pros

Now you’ve got the insight, the best thing you can do is take advice from the entrepreneurs who’ve been dominating the plant-based industry over the last few years. Especially as the market grows more competitive every day…

With demand increasing and popularity rising, it’s not just smaller companies who’ve thrown their hat into the plant-based food ring. Big-name brands such as Richmonds, Papa Johns, and Greggs (how can anyone forget the uproar caused by the vegan sausage roll) all offer a vegan range.

Businesses excelling in this space have been innovative, with imaginative marketing campaigns and creative branding. The Vegetarian Butcher is a perfect example of this, using a clever play on words to name their range of products, including their plant-based ‘Little Willies’ sausages – a Startups favourite.

Other, larger companies, with real grasps on the vegan meat market, are American giants Beyond Meat, and direct competitors Impossible Burger.

In Europe, Netherlands based Vivera has the furthest outreach and success than any other plant-based meat producer in Europe. Whilst the Linda McCartney range of vegetarian and vegan products has been manufactured since 1991, making it the oldest plant-based meat company in the UK.

In terms of the businesses making a real name for themselves in the industry, there are a fair few to choose from. We spoke to two of the most successful, both of them kindly offering their own insight and experience of working in the plant-based meat industry.


Future Farm

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Launched in Brazil in 2019 and expanding to the UK in January 2020, Future Farm, known as Fazenda Futuro in Brazil, is an independent food company that uses cutting-edge technology to create the best plant-based meat on the market.

We spoke to Marketing Director Pedro Zuim about Future Farm, and its success in the plant based food industry.

What values/reasons drove you to start a business in the vegan meat industry?

The founders’ environmental concerns drove the creation of the brand. Co-founders, Marcos Leta and Alfredo Strechinsky, united in concern for the world population’s rate of meat consumption and launched the brand with an aim to improve the world’s nutrition and to build a safer future for our planet, and those in it.

How did you grow your business? 

There’s been a gap in the market for plant-based products which really are indistinguishable from meat when it comes to taste and texture… that’s how the company grew, word of taste. In Brazil, the Future Farm Burger accounts for a staggering 23% of all meat and non-meat burger sales.

In January 2020, we struck an exclusive deal with Sainsbury’s, as a part of their Future Brands programme, both online and across 400 stores nationwide. Our sales are strong and our consumer base is growing rapidly… and this is down to a few factors, taste, and our ethical and sustainable goals.

What do you predict the future holds for the plant-based food industry? 

This category is booming, and the demand for meatless ‘meat’ alternatives has never been so wanted. Red and white meat is only the start, this category is growing fast and evolving into multiple areas.

What is the product you are most proud of and why? 

We’ve just launched our 2030 range, which is an ‘upgraded’ version of our plant-based mince, burgers, and meatballs. These have been specifically produced to correspond to Goal 12 and Goal 15 of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They’ve been ‘upgraded’ with a unique mix of natural extracts to ensure a lighter flavour and we’ve also used canola oil and coconut fat for added nutritious benefits.

It’s our healthiest yet but trust me, it’s still very indulgent and ‘meat’ like. The coconut fat soaks into the Future Burger to give it a juicier and meatier taste than previously, and it’s the first in our range to perfectly emulate rare, medium, and well-done cooking points.


Heura Foods

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Heura is a plant-based startup founded in April 2017. The company's mission is to create solutions that will leave the current food system obsolete and accelerate the transition to a world where animals are out of the equation. The Barcelona-based start-up closed 2020 with a turnover of €8 million, triple the previous year, making it one of the fastest-growing companies in the European plant-based industry.

We spoke to Shani Wright, Head of Global Media Relations, about Heura Foods and its success in the plant based food industry.

What values/reasons drove you to start a business in the vegan meat industry? 

Social justice is our drive. Many people in the team have long been involved in activism and view the technology Heura has created as a tool to further our movement to protect the things we love most: the planet, people, animals and our cultural heritage.

How did you grow your business? 

We have been fortunate to be embraced by the community early on, which has really helped to grow Heura as a business. We're building a global movement of not only followers, but partners in our mission. From a marketing standpoint, this has translated to organic engagement and content creation from our community of Good Rebels – people who are genuinely passionate about accelerating the transition to a plant-based food system.

What do you predict the future holds for the plant-based food industry? 

It's an exciting time for the plant-based food movement. The original plant-based products of tofu and seitan were healthy but lacked the sensorial experience that was sought-after. From there, we saw Silicon Valley developing delicious plant-based meats that offered great experience but weren't always good for a healthy lifestyle.

Now, Heura is leading the plant-based meat 2.0 movement. Through cutting edge technology we've been able to create new products that offer all the amazing benefits of eating animal meat, without all the problems.

Any tips on starting a plant-based meat/food company? 

I encourage entrepreneurs to do what they love. I always say, Heura is a purpose with a brand vs. a brand with a purpose. It's with this passion for pursuing social justice that started Heura. And, don't get discouraged if you get some rejections.

When Heura first started out, people called us crazy dreamers. Now, just four years in, we were able to close 2020 with a turnover of €8 million, triple the previous year. The plant-based protein transition will happen, and it's our job to accelerate this movement.

What is the product you are most proud of and why?

We're really proud of our R&D team for their breakthrough in creating a new solid fat analog that gives the texture and bite of beef from extra virgin olive oil, which is healthier and more sustainable than any other oil. The fat analog brings the sensorial experience of meat, helps reduce the environmental impact of livestock consumption, and improves cardiovascular health. We've already incorporated this into our Heura Burger 2.0 and will continue to leverage this new technology in new product rollouts throughout the year.


Using this knowledge to grow your own plant-based meat business

Reading insight from successful businesses should leave you excited, and inspired, about starting your own plant based food company.

The potential of the market is huge, and the stats don’t lie… veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise!

Before jumping straight in however, consider your motivation behind starting a business in the plant-based industry. Running a business that is built on sustainability, environmental awareness, and ethical practices is the best route to success. Without these values, your plant-based business venture could simply wither away.

Want more sustainable business ideas? Check out our article on starting a sustainable transport business.

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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