Future of Meat Alternatives in Food Service
Foodservice has always been a constant pillar of support for the global food industry. People prefer to engage in social gatherings at various locations such as restaurants, pubs, QSRs for meeting friends, family & business meetings among others that are the traditional drivers.
Plant-based meat alternatives are gaining popularity among consumers and the increase in demand is fulfilled by various dishes that are prepared in-house or in partnership with popular meat alternative brands such as Oumph, Quorn among others. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected a lot of sectors, and food service is one such branch that is impacted highly with periodic long lockdowns. Surprisingly, the demand for plant-based food and drinks has shot up to more than double, leaving a lot of room for exploration in the foodservice industry.
Various Requirements of Foodservice
Generally, the food service is categorized into restaurants, pubs, QSR’s and caterers, however, the consumer preference is now changing to have more specific and personalized service. New segments such as dedicated vegan food chains, vegan butchers, and meal kit companies are spreading in the foodservice industry. In Europe, cumulatively the foodservice market accounts for over €500-600 billion but the penetration of plant protein meat alternatives is even less than 1 percent.
There seems to be a variety of reasons which limit the growth potential of meat alternatives in the foodservice industry. The biggest challenge which needs to be tackled is price. Products are expensive and it becomes difficult to provide quality meals at an economical price. The second biggest problem after price seems to be the taste and texture of the product. It is a two-fold problem, one focuses on the existing taste and texture of the product, and the second on the customization of the products.
The food industry is quite vocal about the fact that though there is an increase in the number of products that are launched in the market, there are only a few that provide an optimum taste and texture. Also, the brands are focused on promoting one standard product to all the geographies and types of customers, thus lacking a consumer-centric approach. Each region/country has its own regional delicacy which should be included if they wish to sell the products to the end customer. The customization for different customers would also be preferred, for instance, a caterer serves a variety of markets such as Business, Sports & Leisure, Education, and Healthcare among others. Within each market, the customers are different which have different requirements in terms of freshness, nutritional content, etc.
The third problem which is observed in the industry is about the use of ingredients. There seems to be a growing trend in making these plant-based products more natural without using any preservatives, allergen-free, sugar-free, and clean label ingredients. However, there seems to be a minimal number of brands that fulfill these criteria, which makes the process of product selection even harder.
Apart from the 3 key reasons, there are other reasons such as support in recipe creation, marketing, training of staff, and more that limits the growth in the foodservice market.
What are the Major Developments?
Within the foodservice industry, we can observe a lot of activities undertaken by the key players in the meat alternative space to meet the growing demand of consumers. For instance, the foodservice giant Compass Group has committed to replacing 40 percent of its meat options with plant-based alternatives in the next decade. Burger King, one of the leaders in QSR, has piloted the world’s first meatless outlet in Germany. Even though the availability was for a limited period, it received an approbatory response from the consumers. Partnerships with meat-alternatives brands can also be witnessed such as Beyond Meat’s partnership with McDonald’s & KFC for the development of McPlant & vegan chicken.
The developments undertaken by each company may have a different objective on a product level, however, the key drivers appear to be sustainability & carbon footprint reduction. There could be multiple ways to achieve these targets such as promoting local supplies, enhancing recyclability, and energy efficiency. When all these methods are applied to plant-based food which is already planet friendly, we see a multiplier effect that accelerates the process of attaining carbon neutrality.
The Probable Futuristic Scenario
Till the time we are registering COVID-19 cases, commenting on a long-term future seems difficult. However, with different types of developments observed in the market, we can expect the demand for meat alternatives to grow tremendously in the foodservice industry. The brands are already working to become backward integrated by acquiring capabilities for protein development, which will surely help in reducing the price of end products. The other noteworthy aspects are how early the meat-free brands provide more flexibility towards regional culinary and develop these products with natural clean labeled and allergen-free ingredients.
Sreedevi K. Consultant, Food & Nutrition