Demand for these meat alternatives is primarily environmental, says John. In its 2019 special report Climate Change and Land, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that plant-based diets could go a long way in mitigating climate change. That’s because cows produce methane, a greenhouse gas, as they digest their food. This environmental impact is exacerbated by deforestation, mainly when woodlands – which take carbon out of the air – are cleared for pastures. “So, as we learn more about climate change, consumers want to do their part by not contributing to an issue that may not be as good as it could be.”
It’s important to point out, John adds, that dairy and beef farmers do also have options for reducing their carbon footprint. This includes investing in a cooperative anaerobic digester to convert manure into fertilizer or renewable natural gas and adopting other regenerative agriculture practices.
In addition to environmental concerns, many people today want to reduce or eliminate animal protein from their diets for health reasons. That’s why John believes plant-based products are not going away. "Will they replace animal protein? I can’t imagine that will happen anytime soon," he says. “But there are a lot of dollars going into the market, so it will certainly continue to grow.”
Big meat producers clearly think so, too, since they are also adding plant-based options to their product lines. The largest meat company in the world, for instance, introduced a line of plant-based burgers and chorizo in 2020. Major players in the animal protein space are also investing in plant-based producers or are offering their own plant-based products.
"Other global events, like the African Swine Fever that wiped out one of the world's largest swine herds in 2019, also have people thinking about food safety," says John. “And plant-based protein is an option there as well.”