Protein Diversification Is the Biggest Opportunity in History for the Meat Industry

By Roger Lienhard, Founder & Executive Chairman of Blue Horizon

Companies are faced with addressing the climate crisis head-on with sustainable, plant-based food or do nothing and go down in history as the ones who kept their heads buried in the sand in the face of scientific evidence.

It’s well-known that animal agriculture is a driving force behind what will become a global environmental disaster sooner than we realize. We also know that the carbon footprint of plant-based food is significantly smaller than that of mass-produced meat, dairy, eggs, and fish.

Yes, plant-based food is the answer. But there’s a predicament. Since the rapid scaling of factory farming in the middle of the 20th century, much of the global economy depends on meat production. Companies can’t simply stop. But what they can do is acknowledge their impact and, rather than launch campaigns about reducing carbon emissions through environmentally-friendly animal feed, commit to plant-based protein.

The most recent Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) report details that animal protein producers can get on the right track by diversifying their options. We already see this happening in food, as restaurant chains partner with the most prominent brands in the space to date: Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

In retail, it’s increasingly common to see plant-based protein in the meat aisle. Brands such as Pure Farmland, Lightlife, and Field Roast are owned by top meat companies, Smithfield and Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods. German brand LikeMeat, part of the LIVEKINDLY Collective, was founded by a third-generation member of a family that operates a meat production company who recognized animal protein’s impact on the planet and wanted to do something about it. Germany’s PHW Group, one of the leading protein distributors in Europe, added an alternative protein development department in 2018, recognizing the plant’s dire need for us to cut ties with meat. It’s a financial gain as well: the global plant-based meat market is projected to be worth $85 billion by 2030, according to UBS analysts.

It’s time for meat companies to diversify.

Danone has been diversifying its plant-based dairy offerings since it acquired WhiteWave Foods in 2017, bringing in recognizable brands like Silk and Alpro. And although plant-based eggs are the least-developed category in the space, it was the fastest-growing category in the U.S. in 2019. On top of that, traditional egg sales fell by 10 percent.

Much of the sudden rise of eggs made from plant protein is thanks to the JUST Egg. In 2019, the mung bean-based egg accounted for 40 percent of all dollars spent in the liquid egg category. JUST’s success should be motivating to anyone second-guessing the impact of plant-based foods. Like the meat and dairy producers mentioned above, dominant chicken and egg companies should consider ditching animals altogether.

Protein diversification isn’t without its problems. While it is astonishing that we live in a time where companies that have built their business on animals are actively pursuing the development of plant-based protein, we have yet to see that coinciding with factory farm closures. But as the market continues to grow at a rapid pace (the U.S. is the dominant force, the U.K. is leading the way with new product launches, and China is poised to become a global leader in the market), I believe that brands will recognize that they can succeed if they lean into plant-based food.