The alternative protein industry has made many exciting strides over the past few years. Startup companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have become household names. These companies, among others, bring a natural alternative to meat products. Their taste and feel are becoming more like animal meat than ever before.
As more people become aware of the severe impact that meat production has on the natural environment, alternative proteins are becoming a much-needed alternative. Nick Cooney, the Founder and Managing Partner of Lever VC, explores the history and the current state of the alternative protein industry.
Between 1971 and 2010, the global production of meat products grew by over three hundred percent while the population of the world grew by only 81 percent. By 2050, researchers predict that global meat production will double from its current levels to 1.2 trillion pounds per year. The alternative protein industry can help to relieve some of the environmental and economic pressures caused by meat production.
History of Alternative Proteins
During the 1970s, health-conscious customers began to look into the possibilities of soy-based meat substitutes. Soy is a high-quality protein that is enjoyed in cultures around the world. Tofu, an Asian specialty, was able to fill in for meat in many different dishes, but many people who enjoyed eating animal meat were turned off by the taste and texture.
As the years went by, more meat alternatives like veggie burgers and tempeh were created. These meat alternatives could not necessarily be substituted for meat one to one, but they appealed to a crossover market.
The environmental movement of the 1990s brought the cost of meat production to the forefront. 15% of all greenhouse-gas emissions created by humans comes from the production of livestock. 40% of these emissions are derived from beef and dairy farming. The production of animal meat, particularly beef, also relies on clearing new lands for farming. It results in habitat disruption and a lack of biodiversity.
Since science had recently concluded that humans were responsible for global warming due to greenhouse gases, environmental activists began to recommend that all consumers limit their animal protein intake and begin using substitutes.
The Industry in the Present
In the 2000s, the alternative protein industry experienced many exciting developments. A handful of alternative protein producers achieved products which are difficult to distinguish from meat. These products, like the Impossible Burger, even have blood-like red “juices” from beet extracts. Beyond meat is another successful competitor in this market.
These products tend to be healthier than their meat-based alternatives, and they also have less impact on the environment. Many alternative types of meat rely on coconut oil and other vegetarian fats to produce a similar mouthfeel to animal meats.
“Clean” or cell-based meat is being developed now. This meat will be grown without the need for butchering a living animal. This meat will mostly be used in situations where ground meat is desired, such as meatloaf and hamburgers. Chicken and pork alternatives are also being developed.
The Future of Alternative Proteins
As meat substitutes become more convincing, many people may be persuaded to purchase alternative proteins. Soy-based, lab-grown, and meat substitutes are all essential parts of the market. Nick Cooney of Lever VC encourages people to look into the alternative protein products that are available on the market today. People who consume alternative proteins can reap their health benefits and enjoy a sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing they have helped the environment.