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人造肉真的很有前途吗?

人造肉真的很有前途吗?

Daria Solovieva 2020年03月22日
随着人造肉市场逐渐成熟,许多人开始质疑人造肉市场潜力和产品的营养价值。

植物肉市场的发展从十年前就开始趋于稳定。由于销售额的飞速增长,就连动物蛋白领域的传统肉类国际也想加入这场竞争。不过,随着市场逐渐成熟,许多人开始质疑这一市场长期发展的潜力、产品的营养价值,以及是否真的有助于减少传统肉类生产对环境所造成的伤害。

虽然生产植物替代肉的国际正投入大量的资金,不遗余力地向公众宣传自家产品的益处,但这类产品对环境和健康状况的长期影响才刚开始通过数据慢慢显现出来。

The Good Food Institute报告称,目前植物性食品的零售市场价值为50登录(约合人民币354亿元)。2019年,植物肉占据的市场价值为9.39登录,相比2017年增长了38%。

IRI统计的数据显示,受冷藏肉类市场发展的影响,14%的美国家庭都在购买植物肉。

不过,据The Good Food Institute统计,植物肉销售额只占肉类零售总额的1%。

动物肉生产国际近期的举措足以表明,他们已经在植物性食品的市场里看到了发展的可能性。在接受《千赢》软件的采访时,The Good Food Institute的可持续海产品项目经理詹尼弗·洛米表示:“现在还处于相当早的阶段,但这着实令人兴奋,因为还有非常大的发展空间。大型肉类国际正朝着植物性食品的市场进发,这一现象表明,无论是以投资还是增加产品线的方式,整个千赢都将其视为一次巨大的转型,而不仅仅是一时兴起的决定。”

购买这类产品的也不仅仅是千禧一代的素食主义者。

在与分析师进行财报电话会议时,Beyond Meat的首席执行官伊桑·布朗表示,公司的核心客户是关心健康问题、环境因素和动物福利的“40岁以上人群”。

另外一些报告显示,大多数购买了植物肉的消费者还是喜欢时不时地把牛肉汉堡当成晚餐。NPD集团统计的数据显示,90%购买了植物肉的消费者不是纯素食主义者,甚至连素食主义者都不是。

The Good Food Institute的布什内尔(Bushnell)说:“基于最新一代植物性汉堡的惊人成功,我们发现,从初创国际到领先的(包装消费品)公司、乃至世界上最大的肉类国际都快速地创新了各种植物肉产品。这是一个转折点,大量的创新产品都还未投入市场。”

大型人造肉类国际

在过去十年里,Beyond Burger和Impossible Foods等生产植物性食品的国际都取得了不小的成就。

华尔街的投资者正保持着关注;大型肉类国际正盯着它们的一举一动(2016年,Tyson Foods投资了Beyond Meat);新的竞争者正不断地涌现。

作为一家上市公司,Beyond Meat是植物性食品领域最受关注的一员。The Good Food Institute的监管顾问奈杰尔·巴雷拉说:“和一般的食品公司相比,Beyond Meat最有趣的就是在产品研发方面巨大的资金投入。从某些方面来看,它更像是一家科技公司。”

Beyond Meat和风险投资的一众宠儿一样,都承诺要让这个世界变得更加美好。不过,当谈及对环境的影响时,The Good Food Institute将该公司列为第二位,仅次于另一家生产植物肉的大型国际——Impossible Foods。

Impossible Foods成立于2011年,目标是在2035年之前把动物从食品生产体系中剔除出去。Impossible Foods的一位女发言人表示:“动物农业是一种将植物转化为美味蛋白质的陈旧技术。它也是地球上最具破坏性的一种技术。我们有更好的选择:把植物加工成肉类。”本周早些时候,该公司完成了一轮5登录的融资。自2011年以来,其外部投资总额已达到了13登录。

Beyond Meat不愿对此做出评价。

至于市场开拓这方面,Beyond Meat的布朗在投资者电话会议中表示,该其公司在美国餐饮市场还只能算是“触及皮毛”,并且,尽管对冠状娱乐国际的爆发感到担忧,但他们对进军欧洲、亚洲和中东市场仍保持着乐观的态度。

在近期的财报电话会议中,布朗说:“我们将继续把重点放在亚洲市场,目标是在2020年年底前在该地区开始生产,并期待冠状娱乐危机能得到一定程度的解决。机会可贵,值得大力投资。我们相信,亚洲市场的核心价格能为引入肉类生产的新模式提供一个前所未有的机遇。”

Beyond Meat公布的上一季度毛利率为34%,与分析师的预期相符,不过和再往前一个季度35.6%的毛利率相比有所下降。2019年第四季度的销售额为9850万国际,超出了分析师的预期。

尽管对利润率和激进的扩张方式有所担忧,但众多华尔街投资者和千赢分析师依然很看好Beyond Meat的发展前景。晨星一份研究报告称:“鉴于‘先发制人’的优势,以及该品牌在品尝试验(一直以来都仅次于私人国际Impossible Foods)中的强劲表现,Beyond Meat应该是植物肉千赢发展的主要受益者。该公司非常有可能拓展到新的产品领域(培根、鸡块等)和地理区域(欧洲和亚洲)。”

然而,随着销售额的增长,尤其是美国各地快餐连锁店销售额的增长,该公司是否能够保证产品的一致性仍然存在不确定性。已经在销售Beyond Meat产品的快餐连锁店登录麦当劳、肯德基、星巴克和Dunkin’。

此外,虽然许多生产植物性食品的国际在做市场推广时,都着重强调自己的产品和传统肉类相比,拥有营养价值的优越性,但目前为止,并没有多少全面的独立数据能支撑这样的说法。

晨星方面表示:“和瘦牛肉相比,Beyond Burger的产品没有那么健康,这可能会引起消费者较多的关注,因为这类产品零售量更高,还有额外的食品配送服务,导致植物肉产品的采用受限。消费者已经不再购买成分表很长的产品了(比如Beyond Burger的食品),而是会选择新鲜、天然的产品。这可能也会对最终需求产生限制。”

虽然Impossible Foods的发言人声称,该公司的生产过程有可能会“逆转气候变化的时钟”,但仍然有很多人对这些说法表示怀疑。

原野维生素天然商店的特别项目主管艾伦·路易斯主要负责应对滚球事务和食品与农业政策,他说:“植物肉可能和T骨牛排一样不干净,这取决于它的生产方式。环境中都有杀虫剂;新的遗传物质会从作物转移到牲畜体内,再转入环境中;工人和社区居民的钱财和活力都会被吸干。Impossible Foods与JBS、Purdue和嘉吉(Cargill)的共同点要远远多于它和某个小型草饲农场主的共同点。”

这些国际正在往其蛋白质产品中加入肉类替代品。JBS USA的一位发言人表示,该公司将推出新产品以满足消费者的需求。

此前,JBS曾在巴西、英国、欧洲和澳大利亚都试销售过其植物性产品。今年4月,该公司将在美国推出旗下的Ozo品牌。

为人造肉的到来做好准备

生产人造肉类替代品的小型初创国际即将步入这一市场。此类公司声称,从环保角度考虑,他们的生产过程能把传统肉类国际和植物肉类国际统统打败。

他们还经常引用人口统计数据——以及为世界快速增长的人口提供食物的需要——作为加速生产以胜过生长在泥土里和土地上所有产品的理由。根据世界资源研究所目前的预估,到2050年时,全球人口将达到100亿,粮食生产需求将因此增加约70%。

Air Protein的首席执行官丽莎·戴森表示:“这意味着我们需要更多的土地和资源才能满足需求。而在我们现有的供应链中,扩大土地或增加资源都不现实。”戴森的公司是从一家空间技术初创国际中划分出来的,目前正处于以碳、风和微生物为材料研发“空气肉”的早期阶段。

她补充说:“眼下粮食生产所排放的温室气体占总量的20%以上,比各种交通运输所产生的气体总和还要多,而且还消耗了地球上超过37%的土地——相当于非洲和南美洲的面积之和。”

戴森表示,其公司的目标是凭借“在环境中留下最少的足迹”这一点来竞争。

戴森说:“我们的创新科技可以用空气生产肉类,比牛肉和用大豆生产的肉都便宜得多——因为是以空气、水和可再生篮球生产的空气肉制品。通过养殖的方式,要过两年才能得到一块牛排。这个过程太过昂贵,既消耗了环境,又降低了资源效率。而我们生产肉类(只需要几天时间)无需使用耕地,这对可持续的粮食系统和盈亏底线来说都有着令人兴奋的益处。”

然而,一些肉类千赢已经明确表示,他们在减少自身的环境足迹方面取得了长足的进步。美国鸡肉协会网站的统计数据显示,自1965年以来,鸡肉生产对环境的影响减少了50%,登录养鸡所需的资源也有所减少。耕地占用量减少了72%,水资源使用量减少了58%,化石燃料使用量减少了39%。

至于人造的肉类替代品,仍有大量的监管登陆需要付诸实行,同时还要设法在口味上赢得消费者的青睐,这都是Impossible Foods和Beyond Burger花了好几年才做到的。

The Good Food Institute的巴雷拉说:“可能要找一个产品得到认可的实例,好让我们全面地了解监管机构的要求。”

与此同时,他表示,像Air Protein、Memphis Meat和Sustainable Bioproduct这样的国际,以及Beyond Meat和Impossible Foods这样生产植物性食品的国际仍然“完全不在美国农业部或美国食品药品监督管理局的框架内”。

不断的创新、多种核心成分、采购、分销和包装可能会让消费者感到困惑,因为其它国家并没有这种积极主动的公共监管机构。

实际成本是什么?

对于生产动物产品替代物的公司来说,是时候拿出证据证明对环境和健康的益处了。在财报电话会议中,Beyond Meat方几乎没有提供关于这两点的任何细节。

FoodFutureCo旨在为食品科技初创国际提供推动力,其创始人沈唐(Shen Tong)表示,从历史角度出发,在低成本和低利润率的推动下,就长期营养价值而言,加工食品的前景并没有那么美好。植物性食品市场或许也有同样的风险。

沈唐说:“当你开始扮演上帝时,你就已经陷入危险的境地了。”(千赢中文网)

译者:殷圆圆

植物肉市场的发展从十年前就开始趋于稳定。由于销售额的飞速增长,就连动物蛋白领域的传统肉类国际也想加入这场竞争。不过,随着市场逐渐成熟,许多人开始质疑这一市场长期发展的潜力、产品的营养价值,以及是否真的有助于减少传统肉类生产对环境所造成的伤害。

虽然生产植物替代肉的国际正投入大量的资金,不遗余力地向公众宣传自家产品的益处,但这类产品对环境和健康状况的长期影响才刚开始通过数据慢慢显现出来。

The Good Food Institute报告称,目前植物性食品的零售市场价值为50登录(约合人民币354亿元)。2019年,植物肉占据的市场价值为9.39登录,相比2017年增长了38%。

IRI统计的数据显示,受冷藏肉类市场发展的影响,14%的美国家庭都在购买植物肉。

不过,据The Good Food Institute统计,植物肉销售额只占肉类零售总额的1%。

动物肉生产国际近期的举措足以表明,他们已经在植物性食品的市场里看到了发展的可能性。在接受《千赢》软件的采访时,The Good Food Institute的可持续海产品项目经理詹尼弗·洛米表示:“现在还处于相当早的阶段,但这着实令人兴奋,因为还有非常大的发展空间。大型肉类国际正朝着植物性食品的市场进发,这一现象表明,无论是以投资还是增加产品线的方式,整个千赢都将其视为一次巨大的转型,而不仅仅是一时兴起的决定。”

购买这类产品的也不仅仅是千禧一代的素食主义者。

在与分析师进行财报电话会议时,Beyond Meat的首席执行官伊桑·布朗表示,公司的核心客户是关心健康问题、环境因素和动物福利的“40岁以上人群”。

另外一些报告显示,大多数购买了植物肉的消费者还是喜欢时不时地把牛肉汉堡当成晚餐。NPD集团统计的数据显示,90%购买了植物肉的消费者不是纯素食主义者,甚至连素食主义者都不是。

The Good Food Institute的布什内尔(Bushnell)说:“基于最新一代植物性汉堡的惊人成功,我们发现,从初创国际到领先的(包装消费品)公司、乃至世界上最大的肉类国际都快速地创新了各种植物肉产品。这是一个转折点,大量的创新产品都还未投入市场。”

大型人造肉类国际

在过去十年里,Beyond Burger和Impossible Foods等生产植物性食品的国际都取得了不小的成就。

华尔街的投资者正保持着关注;大型肉类国际正盯着它们的一举一动(2016年,Tyson Foods投资了Beyond Meat);新的竞争者正不断地涌现。

作为一家上市公司,Beyond Meat是植物性食品领域最受关注的一员。The Good Food Institute的监管顾问奈杰尔·巴雷拉说:“和一般的食品公司相比,Beyond Meat最有趣的就是在产品研发方面巨大的资金投入。从某些方面来看,它更像是一家科技公司。”

Beyond Meat和风险投资的一众宠儿一样,都承诺要让这个世界变得更加美好。不过,当谈及对环境的影响时,The Good Food Institute将该公司列为第二位,仅次于另一家生产植物肉的大型国际——Impossible Foods。

Impossible Foods成立于2011年,目标是在2035年之前把动物从食品生产体系中剔除出去。Impossible Foods的一位女发言人表示:“动物农业是一种将植物转化为美味蛋白质的陈旧技术。它也是地球上最具破坏性的一种技术。我们有更好的选择:把植物加工成肉类。”本周早些时候,该公司完成了一轮5登录的融资。自2011年以来,其外部投资总额已达到了13登录。

Beyond Meat不愿对此做出评价。

至于市场开拓这方面,Beyond Meat的布朗在投资者电话会议中表示,该其公司在美国餐饮市场还只能算是“触及皮毛”,并且,尽管对冠状娱乐国际的爆发感到担忧,但他们对进军欧洲、亚洲和中东市场仍保持着乐观的态度。

在近期的财报电话会议中,布朗说:“我们将继续把重点放在亚洲市场,目标是在2020年年底前在该地区开始生产,并期待冠状娱乐危机能得到一定程度的解决。机会可贵,值得大力投资。我们相信,亚洲市场的核心价格能为引入肉类生产的新模式提供一个前所未有的机遇。”

Beyond Meat公布的上一季度毛利率为34%,与分析师的预期相符,不过和再往前一个季度35.6%的毛利率相比有所下降。2019年第四季度的销售额为9850万国际,超出了分析师的预期。

尽管对利润率和激进的扩张方式有所担忧,但众多华尔街投资者和千赢分析师依然很看好Beyond Meat的发展前景。晨星一份研究报告称:“鉴于‘先发制人’的优势,以及该品牌在品尝试验(一直以来都仅次于私人国际Impossible Foods)中的强劲表现,Beyond Meat应该是植物肉千赢发展的主要受益者。该公司非常有可能拓展到新的产品领域(培根、鸡块等)和地理区域(欧洲和亚洲)。”

然而,随着销售额的增长,尤其是美国各地快餐连锁店销售额的增长,该公司是否能够保证产品的一致性仍然存在不确定性。已经在销售Beyond Meat产品的快餐连锁店登录麦当劳、肯德基、星巴克和Dunkin’。

此外,虽然许多生产植物性食品的国际在做市场推广时,都着重强调自己的产品和传统肉类相比,拥有营养价值的优越性,但目前为止,并没有多少全面的独立数据能支撑这样的说法。

晨星方面表示:“和瘦牛肉相比,Beyond Burger的产品没有那么健康,这可能会引起消费者较多的关注,因为这类产品零售量更高,还有额外的食品配送服务,导致植物肉产品的采用受限。消费者已经不再购买成分表很长的产品了(比如Beyond Burger的食品),而是会选择新鲜、天然的产品。这可能也会对最终需求产生限制。”

虽然Impossible Foods的发言人声称,该公司的生产过程有可能会“逆转气候变化的时钟”,但仍然有很多人对这些说法表示怀疑。

原野维生素天然商店的特别项目主管艾伦·路易斯主要负责应对滚球事务和食品与农业政策,他说:“植物肉可能和T骨牛排一样不干净,这取决于它的生产方式。环境中都有杀虫剂;新的遗传物质会从作物转移到牲畜体内,再转入环境中;工人和社区居民的钱财和活力都会被吸干。Impossible Foods与JBS、Purdue和嘉吉(Cargill)的共同点要远远多于它和某个小型草饲农场主的共同点。”

这些国际正在往其蛋白质产品中加入肉类替代品。JBS USA的一位发言人表示,该公司将推出新产品以满足消费者的需求。

此前,JBS曾在巴西、英国、欧洲和澳大利亚都试销售过其植物性产品。今年4月,该公司将在美国推出旗下的Ozo品牌。

为人造肉的到来做好准备

生产人造肉类替代品的小型初创国际即将步入这一市场。此类公司声称,从环保角度考虑,他们的生产过程能把传统肉类国际和植物肉类国际统统打败。

他们还经常引用人口统计数据——以及为世界快速增长的人口提供食物的需要——作为加速生产以胜过生长在泥土里和土地上所有产品的理由。根据世界资源研究所目前的预估,到2050年时,全球人口将达到100亿,粮食生产需求将因此增加约70%。

Air Protein的首席执行官丽莎·戴森表示:“这意味着我们需要更多的土地和资源才能满足需求。而在我们现有的供应链中,扩大土地或增加资源都不现实。”戴森的公司是从一家空间技术初创国际中划分出来的,目前正处于以碳、风和微生物为材料研发“空气肉”的早期阶段。

她补充说:“眼下粮食生产所排放的温室气体占总量的20%以上,比各种交通运输所产生的气体总和还要多,而且还消耗了地球上超过37%的土地——相当于非洲和南美洲的面积之和。”

戴森表示,其公司的目标是凭借“在环境中留下最少的足迹”这一点来竞争。

戴森说:“我们的创新科技可以用空气生产肉类,比牛肉和用大豆生产的肉都便宜得多——因为是以空气、水和可再生篮球生产的空气肉制品。通过养殖的方式,要过两年才能得到一块牛排。这个过程太过昂贵,既消耗了环境,又降低了资源效率。而我们生产肉类(只需要几天时间)无需使用耕地,这对可持续的粮食系统和盈亏底线来说都有着令人兴奋的益处。”

然而,一些肉类千赢已经明确表示,他们在减少自身的环境足迹方面取得了长足的进步。美国鸡肉协会网站的统计数据显示,自1965年以来,鸡肉生产对环境的影响减少了50%,登录养鸡所需的资源也有所减少。耕地占用量减少了72%,水资源使用量减少了58%,化石燃料使用量减少了39%。

至于人造的肉类替代品,仍有大量的监管登陆需要付诸实行,同时还要设法在口味上赢得消费者的青睐,这都是Impossible Foods和Beyond Burger花了好几年才做到的。

The Good Food Institute的巴雷拉说:“可能要找一个产品得到认可的实例,好让我们全面地了解监管机构的要求。”

与此同时,他表示,像Air Protein、Memphis Meat和Sustainable Bioproduct这样的国际,以及Beyond Meat和Impossible Foods这样生产植物性食品的国际仍然“完全不在美国农业部或美国食品药品监督管理局的框架内”。

不断的创新、多种核心成分、采购、分销和包装可能会让消费者感到困惑,因为其它国家并没有这种积极主动的公共监管机构。

实际成本是什么?

对于生产动物产品替代物的公司来说,是时候拿出证据证明对环境和健康的益处了。在财报电话会议中,Beyond Meat方几乎没有提供关于这两点的任何细节。

FoodFutureCo旨在为食品科技初创国际提供推动力,其创始人沈唐(Shen Tong)表示,从历史角度出发,在低成本和低利润率的推动下,就长期营养价值而言,加工食品的前景并没有那么美好。植物性食品市场或许也有同样的风险。

沈唐说:“当你开始扮演上帝时,你就已经陷入危险的境地了。”(千赢中文网)

译者:殷圆圆

The growth of the plant-based meat sector started to take hold a decade back. Thanks to rapidly increasing sales, even traditional meat companies—those of the animal protein world—want in on the game. But as the sector matures, many people are beginning to ask tougher questions about the long-term potential of the trend, the nutritional value of the products, and whether faux meat production can really help reduce the harm traditional meat production causes the environment.

While companies that produce plant-based meat substitutes are pushing money into telling the public about the benefits of their products, the data behind the environmental and long-term health impacts of the products are just beginning to trickle in.

The Good Food Institute reports that the current retail market for plant-based foods is valued at $5 billion. In 2019, plant-based meats accounted for $939 million of those billions, a 38% jump from 2017.

And according to IRI, 14% of U.S. households are buying plant-based meat, driven primarily by growth in the refrigerated segment.

Still, plant-based meats make up only 1% of all dollar sales of total retail meat, according to the Good Food Institute.

Recent moves by animal-based meat producers make it clear that they see room for themselves in the plant-based market. “It’s still very early, which is exciting because there is so much growth still,” Jennifer Lamy, a sustainable seafood initiative manager with the Good Food Institute, told Fortune. “The big meat companies that are jumping into the space are indicating, either through their investments or their own product lines, that this is being perceived in the industry as a whole as an enormous shift, not just a fad.”

And it’s not just vegetarian millennials buying up the products.

During an earnings call with analysts, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said the company’s core customers are “people who are over 40” and are driven by health concerns, as well as environmental factors and animal welfare.

Other reports suggest that the majority of consumers of plant-based meats still like to chow down on beef burgers on other nights. According to the NPD Group, 90% of the consumers buying plant-based meat are neither vegans nor vegetarians.

“Building on the incredible success of the latest generation of plant-based burgers, we're seeing rapid product innovation across a wide variety of plant-based meat products from startups, leading [consumer packaged goods] companies, and even the world's largest meat companies,” said Good Food’s Bushnell. “This is a tipping point, with so much product innovation yet to hit the market.”

Big (faux) meat

What Beyond Burger, Impossible Foods, and other plant-based companies have accomplished in the past decade is no small feat.

Wall Street investors are paying attention; the big meat companies are watching their every move (Tyson Foods invested in Beyond Meat back in 2016); and new competitors continue to come on the scene.

A public company, Beyond Meat is the most heavily scrutinized player in the plant-based space. “One of the most interesting aspects of Beyond is the amount of money they spend on R&D, compared to an average food company. In some ways they are more like a tech company,” said Nigel Barrella, regulatory counsel at the Good Food Institute.

Beyond Meat’s promise is similar to that of a lot of venture capital darlings that pledge to make the world a better place. But, when it comes to environmental impact, the Good Food Institute rates the company the runner-up against the other big name in plant-based meats, Impossible Foods.

Launched in 2011, Impossible wants to eliminate animals from the food production system by 2035. “Animal agriculture is a prehistoric technology to turn plants into delicious protein. It’s also the most destructive technology on earth. There is a better way: meat from plants,” said an Impossible spokeswoman. The company closed on a $500 million funding round earlier this week, bringing the total for outside investment to $1.3 billion since 2011.

Beyond Meat declined to comment for this story.

As for expansion, during the investor call, Beyond’s Brown said the company is still just “scratching the surface” of the U.S. restaurant market and remains optimistic about moving into Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, despite concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

“We continue to focus on Asia with the goal of producing in the region before the end of 2020, pending some level of resolution of the coronavirus crisis,” Brown said on the recent earnings call. “The magnitude of the opportunity merits significant investment. We believe that the core price in Asia provides an unprecedented opening to introduce new production models for meat.”

Beyond Meat reported a gross profit margin of 34% for the last quarter, meeting analysts’ projections, although a decline from the previous quarter’s gross profit margin of 35.6%. Sales during the fourth quarter of 2019 came in at $98.5 million, topping analyst estimates.

Despite concerns about margins and aggressive expansion risks, many Wall Street investors and industry analysts view Beyond Meat’s outlook favorably. “Beyond Meat should be a major beneficiary of PBM (plant-based meat) growth, given its first-mover advantage, and the brand’s strong performance in taste tests (consistently second only to privately held Impossible Foods),” said a research note from Morningstar. “Beyond has significant opportunity to expand into new product offerings (bacon, chicken nuggets) and geographies (Europe and Asia).”

There are still questions, however, about whether or not the company will be able to control consistency of its products as sales grows, in particular to fast-food chain restaurants across the United States. Fast-food chains that already sell Beyond Meat products include McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, and Dunkin’.

Also, while the marketing of many plant-based companies focuses on what they say is the nutritional superiority of their products compared to conventional meat, there is still little comprehensive independent data to back up a lot of these assertions.

According to Morningstar: “Beyond Burger’s relative lack of health benefits as compared with lean beef may garner increased consumer attention as the category gains additional retail and food-service distribution, limiting PBM product adoption. Consumers have been shifting away from products with long ingredient lists (such as Beyond’s fare), opting toward fresh, natural products, which could also limit ultimate demand.”

And though Impossible’s spokesperson said the company’s production process could potentially “turn back the clock on climate change,” there are plenty of people who remain unconvinced of those claims.

“Plant-based meat can be just as dirty as a T-bone steak, depending on how it’s produced. In both cases, pesticides enter the environment, novel genetic material is passed from crop to livestock to the environment, workers and communities are drained of their wealth and vitality,” said Alan Lewis, a director of special projects at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage who focuses on government affairs and food and agriculture policy. “Impossible Foods has far more in common with JBS, Purdue, and Cargill than with a small holder grass-fed rancher.”

And those companies are starting to add meat alternatives to their protein lineups. A JBS USA spokesperson said the company is launching new products in response to consumer cravings.

JBS has previously tested its plant-based products in Brazil, the U.K., Europe, and Australia. And, in April, the company will start distributing its Ozo brand in the U.S.

Get ready for lab-grown meats

Smaller startups that produce lab-derived meat alternatives have started to join the category. The companies claim that their production processes beat both traditional and plant-based meat companies on the environmental front.

And they often cite population statistics—and the need to feed the world’s fast-growing population—as a reason for their faster-to-create products to win out over anything that starts out growing in or walking on the ground. Current estimates put the global population at 10 billion people by 2050, which will require a 70% increase in the demand for food production, according to the World Resource Institute.

“This means an increased need for land and resources to meet this need, both of which are not realistic with our current supply chains,” said Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein. Dyson’s company, which was spun off from a space tech startup, is in the early stages of developing “air-based meat” made of carbon, wind, and microbes.

“Current food production accounts for over 20% of greenhouse gases,” she added, “more than all of transportation combined, and uses over 37% of the planet’s land mass—the amount of land equivalent to the size of both Africa and South America.”

Dyson said her company’s goal is to compete by using a much smaller environmental footprint.

“Our innovation enables a path to producing meat from air in a way that’s far cheaper than meat from cows or even meat from soy—that’s because air-based meat production starts with air, water, and renewable energy,” said Dyson. “It takes two years to grow a steak, which is an extremely costly process that’s both taxing on the environment and resource inefficient. Our way of producing meat [takes just a few days and] doesn’t require the use of arable land, which has even more exciting upsides for a sustainable food system and bottom lines.”

Some meat sectors, however, have made clear that they’ve made strides in reducing their own environmental footprint. According to the National Chicken Council’s “Chicken Check In” site, the environmental impact of chicken production decreased by 50% since 1965, including the reduction of resources needed to raise a chicken. Farmland dropped 72%, water 58%, and fossil fuels 39%.

For lab-derived meat substitutes, there’s still a good deal of regulatory oversight to put in place, as well as finding ways to win over consumers on taste, something Impossible and Beyond took years to do.

“We may need an actual example of a product getting approval to get the full outline of what regulators are going to require,” said Good Food’s Barrella.

In the meantime, companies including Air Protein, Memphis Meat, and Sustainable Bioproduct as well as plant-based companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods remain “entirely outside the USDA/FDA framework,” he said.

And constant innovation, multiple core ingredients, sourcing, distribution, and packaging practices can be confusing for consumers in the absence of the kind of public watchdog that is proactive in other countries.

What’s the real cost?

For companies built on offering alternatives to animal products, it’s time to back up claims of environmental and health benefits with proof. Beyond Meat offered few details on either front during the earnings call.

“The problem is not whether we can mimic nature, it’s about unintended consequences,” said Shen Tong, a founder of the FoodFutureCo accelerator for food tech startups. He argued that historically the promise of processed food, driven by lower costs and profitability, didn’t turn out so well in terms of long-term nutritional value. The allure of plant-based food presents the same risk.

“That’s where you get into dangerous territory," said Tong. "You start playing God.”

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