When the WHO classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic,” and processed red meat as “carcinogenic” to humans, at the end of 2015, it was the ultimate final straw on a horrible year for the industry. Sales had reached their lowest point in many countries, and it seemed like its decline had finally arrived.
Like all cycles however, once you touch the bottom, the only way is up: over the next ten years, pro capita red meat consumption is bound to increase, as this graph from the 2016 OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook shows.
But while the future looks less grim for read meat, there are tell-tale signs coming from consumer behaviour (or, the picture of what is happening right now) and investment trends (or, the prediction of what will happen in the future) that things will never be the same again.
Consumers’ trends are changing
Let’s make no mistake: the world is not getting tired of meat just yet. Rather, what we’re looking at is a consumers’ shift from beef and veal to other types of meat.
Among them, chicken is the rising star.
Another significant trend is the growth of the grass-feed beef market. More consumers realised that not all meat was created equal, and are willing to pay a premium price to have more quality.
And money is following
The growth of the grass-fed beef niche is a symptom that consumers are getting wary of the traditional animal farming system, and investors are taking note. As Alan Briefel, executive director of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return initiative put it: “from pandemics to pollution, the factory farming sector is becoming a high-risk sector for investors.”
Out with the old, in with the new alternative meats. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two start-ups that are creating plant-based meats that look and taste exactly like the real thing, have so far attracted investments of almost $200M. What didn’t go unnoticed, is that one of the backers is Tyson Foods (which took a 5% stake in Beyond Meat), the world’s largest meat processor and symbol of factory farming.
So where is this going?
The way the world consumes meat is evolving, although it’s too soon to say where trends are headed to. If there’s one thing that those charts teach us, it’s that the eating habits of millions of people are slow to change.
One thing seems quite clear though: producing more meat for a growing world population is just one piece of a huge and challenging puzzle, so it just makes sense that there won’t be a single miraculous solution for everything.
Let’s get ready for different types of meats then. Whether nature-made or human-made, the future of meat seems to be in diversification.