How COVID-19 is accelerating developments in the alternative protein sector
Kathleen Gerstenberg 1 June 2020
Although the ongoing pandemic is having a severe impact on the foodservice industry and the wider global economy, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the alternative-protein sector. In Europe, Asia, and the US, plant-based meat sales are skyrocketing, investments are being poured into alternative-protein companies, and large corporations are shifting to secure their share of a rapidly growing market.
China: KFC and Starbucks introduce plant-based products
April 2020 was a quantum leap forward for the plant-based food sector in China. Just as the country emerged from lockdown, Starbucks, the world’s biggest coffee chain announced the rollout of a plant-based food and beverage menu across China, launching products from Beyond Meat, Oatly, and Omnipork – a welcome development after ProVeg had called on them to drop their surcharge on plant-based milks in order to help them achieve their new climate targets.1 In the same week, international fast-food giant KFC announced their trials of plant-based chicken nuggets in selected Chinese cities.
The week was topped off with local plant-based startup Starfield, a next-generation food tech company producing ground meat made from seaweed protein, partnering with six major restaurant chains in the country to launch their product across hundreds of restaurants.2 And this is most likely just the beginning: popular US brands, Impossible Foods and JUST Egg, are making China their number-one priority for future expansion.3 4 It is clear that more and more companies want to hop on the fast-growing plant-based trend in China and wider Asia, a development that is further accelerating as consumer awareness about the fragility of our food system increases and more and more people are starting to make the connection between our heavy reliance on animal-based foods and the current pandemic.
While plant-based entrepreneurs will need a degree of stamina in the current situation, the future looks bright.
Spain: supermarkets stock up on plant-based meat
Consumers are becoming increasingly open to plant-based alternatives in Spain, and mainstream supermarkets are starting to respond to the increased demand by stocking up on vegan meat alternatives.5 A recent study by Upfield revealed that Spaniards have adopted a more plant-based diet during confinement, with an increased intake of fruit (+66%) and vegetables (+59%), and with three out of 10 having chosen to consume more plant-based alternatives than usual – 80% of whom said that they intend to maintain these new habits when the quarantine is over.6 Spanish consumers are particularly keen to move away from animal products: of all participating countries, Spain has shown the highest interest in this year’s ProVeg Veggie Challenge, with more than 18,000 people signing up thus far in order to receive guidance on how to eat a more plant-based diet.
UK: consumers are cutting down on meat
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five Brits has been cutting down on meat according to a survey conducted by The Vegan Society.7 This is not only due to increasing awareness of the impacts of animal products on health and environment but sometimes simply because of the lack of availability of products they usually consume. What is important though, is that a significant share are convinced by those new alternatives and will continue to purchase them in the future. In the same survey, almond milk was the most popular newly tried product, while consumers had also recently sampled plant-based meat alternatives such as sausages and burgers, as well as pulses such as chickpeas and lentils. This change in buying behaviour does not just indicate what a significant role supermarkets and their stock choices play in influencing consumer decisions; the commitment to stick with the new products also speaks for high-quality plant-based alternatives finding more and more acceptance as the new normal.
US: plant-based meat sales skyrocketing
In the US, plant-based meat sales saw a staggering growth of up to 280% in the first weeks of March.8 Oat milk recorded even crazier numbers: sales rose more than 300% as consumers were stocking up with non-perishable goods in the early stages of the lockdown.9 And the trend continued well beyond the first panic purchases: Nielsen reported a 264% increase in meat-alternative purchases in the nine weeks ending 2 May, making it the biggest surge of any category, even while overall US retail sales plummeted.10 11 Plant-based meat alternatives were already on the rise before the pandemic hit, with the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat finding their ways onto the menus of major fast food chains such as Burger King, Carl’s Jr., and Del Taco.
At ProVeg Corporate Engagement, we work with stakeholders of the food industry to support the growth of the plant-based sector.
Alternative protein: where investors put their money
The investment in both plant-based and cultured protein companies in the first quarter of this year adds up to a staggering record of US$930 million – already exceeding the record of 824$ million invested in alternative protein companies in 2019 for the entire year.12 Beyond Meat, the highest-performing plant-based startup on the trading floor, has repeatedly made headlines for its overperforming IPO, and just finished the first quarter of 2020 with a net revenue quarter-on-quarter increase of 141%.
Given those numbers, it comes at no surprise that big meat wants its piece of the cake and is eyeing the plant-based sector: Tyson, one of the largest global meat producers, warns that ‘the food supply chain is breaking’, and will be launching its own vegan meat range in the next few months.13 14 Cargill, another major meat supplier, will be launching a series of plant-based products in China by the end of June.15 Asia in particular is a hot playing field: venture-capital firms are ramping up their investments in plant-based food technologies.16 17
The plant-based market is a rapidly evolving landscape. ProVeg recently collaborated with Landolt Bank to report on investment opportunities in the sector.
The global market for plant-based and cell-based products is now an undeniable reality that has moved onto the radar of some of the largest players in the global food system. A shift that was already moving forward at a pace unheard of in the food industry is now being accelerated even further by the current pandemic – a global disaster caused by a virus transmitted from animals, pointing towards the fragility of our current animal-heavy food system and the risks it poses for food security and global health.
For more information on the link between animals in our food chain and the emergence of new diseases, make sure to download the free ProVeg Food & Pandemics report.
|↑1||Reuters (21.04.20): Starbucks brings Beyond Meat and Oatly to China with new plant-based lunch menu, online at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-starbucks-beyond-meat-china-idUSKBN2230AS [25.05.20]|
|↑2||Green Queen Media (29.04.20): Chinese Plant-Based Meat Starfield Launches At Hundreds Of Restaurants Across China, online at https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/chinese-plant-based-meat-starfield-launches-at-hundreds-of-restaurants-across-mainland-china/ [25.05.20]|
|↑3||Reuters (09.09.19): Impossible Foods says China its top priority meat substitute market, online at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-food-meat/impossible-foods-says-china-its-top-priority-meat-substitute-market-idUSKCN1VU0T3 [25.05.20]|
|↑4||FoodNavigator (05.12.19): JUST predicts mid-2020 launch in EU, yet China ‘number one priority’ for scrambled egg alternative, online at (https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2019/12/05/JUST-predicts-mid-2020-launch-in-EU-yet-China-number-one-priority-for-scrambled-egg-alternative?utm_source=copyright&utm_medium=OnSite&utm_campaign=copyright [25.05.20]|
|↑5||Vegconomist (11.05.20): Pandemic Increases Number of Spanish Supermarkets Stocking Vegan Meat, online at https://vegconomist.com/market-and-trends/pandemic-increases-number-of-spanish-supermarkets-stocking-vegan-meat/ [26.05.20]|
|↑6||ProVeg Spain (05.05.20): El confinamiento cambia el patrón de alimentación hacia uno más vegetal, online at https://proveg.com/es/blog/confinamiento-cambia-patron-alimentacion-vegetal/ [26.05.20]|
|↑7||The Vegan Society (29.04.20): 1 in 5 Brits cut down on meat consumption during COVID-19 pandemic, online at https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/news/1-5-brits-cut-down-meat-consumption-during-covid-19-pandemic#_ftn1 [25.05.20]|
|↑8||Green Queen Media (27.03.20): Consumers Turn To Vegan Meat Amid Coronavirus With Sales Soaring By 280%, online at https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/consumers-turn-to-vegan-meat-amid-coronavirus-with-sales-soaring-by-280-percent/ [25.05.20]|
|↑9||Food&Wine (04.03.20): People Are Stocking Up on Oat Milk Because of Coronavirus, online at https://www.foodandwine.com/news/oat-milk-stockpile-coronavirus [25.05.20]|
|↑10||Bloomberg (15.05.20): Coronavirus Lockdown Spurs 264% Boom in Plant-Based Meat, online at (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-15/americans-boost-plant-based-meat-purchases-264-during-lockdown [25.05.20]|
|↑11||Bloomberg (15.05.20): U.S. Economy Adds to Grim Records, Signaling Yearslong Recovery, online at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-15/u-s-retail-sales-fell-16-4-in-april-worse-than-march-record [25.05.20]|
|↑12||The Good Food Institute (13.05.20): Record $824 million invested in alternative protein companies in 2019, $930 million already invested in Q1 2020, online at https://www.gfi.org/record-investment-in-alternative-protein-in-2019-and-q1-2020-media-release [25.05.20]|
|↑13||The Guardian (27.04.20): Major US meat producer warns ‘food supply chain is breaking’, online at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/27/tyson-foods-coronavirus-food-supply-chain [26.05.20]|
|↑14||Live Kindly (06.05.20): Tyson Foods is launching vegan meat this summer, online at|
|↑15||FoodNavigator (01.05.20): Cargill to launch plant-based range in China, online at (https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2020/05/01/Cargill-to-launch-plant-based-range-in-China?utm_source=copyright&utm_medium=OnSite&utm_campaign=copyright [26.05.20]|
|↑16||Vegconomist (30.04.20): Growthwell Group Raises US$8 Million as Singapore Continues at Forefront of Plant-Based Innovation, online at https://vegconomist.com/companies-and-portraits/growthwell-group-raises-us8-million-as-singapore-continues-at-forefront-of-plant-based-innovation/ [26.05.20]|
|↑17||Vegconomist (27.04.20): Plantible Foods Secures $4.6 M for “World’s Most Sustainable Protein” Derived From Aquatic Duckweed, online at https://vegconomist.com/companies-and-portraits/plantible-foods-secures-4-6-m-for-worlds-most-sustainable-protein-derived-from-aquatic-duckweed/ [26.05.20]|
About the author
International Communications Manager, Events
Kati manages the programme for the ProVeg New Food Conference, a unique food industry-oriented event that accelerates innovative food technologies. To ensure that the event reflects the most important developments in the market, Kati closely monitors alternative protein advancements in the food industry sector.