The global food system is facing unparalleled challenges and changes. So how can we reset for a better, more sustainable future? The answer is already emerging, with investment in alternative protein companies reaching an all-time $3.1 billion high, policymakers beginning to push for reduced meat consumption and supermarket shelves hosting more vegan options than ever before. This Veganuary it is easier than ever to make the switch to a more plant-based diet.
Veganuary, the movement which encourages individuals to adopt a vegan diet for the month of January, has proven to be wildly popular with over 500,000 taking the pledge last year, and two million signing up since the campaign began in 2014. As consumer engagement with Veganuary has grown, so too has the food industry’s response to it. In 2021, across Veganuary’s six official campaign countries (UK, US, Germany, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil), 439 new vegan products were launched, and in the UK retailers saw record sales of plant-based foods.
Moving beyond meat
Restaurants are catering to an ever-wider vegan market, with over 250 new plant-based menus being added to chain restaurants in Veganuary 2021 alone. This year, Wagamama has made 50% of their menu vegan and have released a Japanese-inspired fish and chips for Veganuary, Pizza Express have launched vegan garlic butter to supplement their already extensive vegan menu and Burger King is the first fast food outlet to create vegan chicken nuggets.
This trend is also reflected in the rising sales of alternative meats in supermarkets. The Ctrl, Alt, Meat podcast interviewed Ethan Brown and Simeon Van der Molen, the Founder CEOs of Beyond Meat and Moving Mountains, respectively. Both believe the provision of their alternative meats encourage omnivores to down their steak knives at least some of the time, with “93% of consumers buying Beyond Meat simultaneously buying animal proteins in their cart”.
For this reason, both companies have partnered with major high street food outlets, providing a viable and convenient alternative to consumers – meaning they “don’t have to sacrifice the things they love”: the Beyond Meat burger patty in McDonald’s McPlant or the Moving Mountains burger sold in Hard Rock Cafés across Europe. Essentially, providing meat substitutes in supermarkets and restaurants means a plant-based lifestyle is made appealing to a wider demographic than was the case previously. By providing a product that mimics the aroma, flavour, taste, and textures of meat as closely as possible, a plant-based diet is not as restrictive as some may think.
Brown also highlighted the environmental benefits of plant-based diets, pointing to a study conducted by the University of Michigan which found that Beyond Meat burgers used 99% less water and generated 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their traditional meat counterparts. Moving Mountains have conducted similar research, finding their burgers emit 92% fewer greenhouse gases than the equivalent beef products.
Responding to arguments that alternative meats are unhealthy, Brown highlighted a study undertaken by Stanford University which showed that when consistently eating Beyond Meat compared with animal protein, individuals’ LDL cholesterol and TMAO (a compound closely associated with heart disease) levels dropped.
An alt-meat future
Alternative meats are not the solution to all the issues our food system is facing, but the evidence shows that they can make a significant contribution towards individual health and curbing climate change. Campaigns like Veganuary are demonstrating that an increasing number of people are willing to incorporate plant-based alternatives into their diets, and that can only be a good thing.
Katie Briefel is presenter of Ctrl Alt Meat, a weekly podcast produced by the Jeremy Coller Foundation, exploring the issues reshaping the global food business. This monthly column will provide more insights and information on the future of our food systems. Listen to the full episodes of Ctrl Alt Meat, available on Spotify, iTunes, and most major podcast platforms.