The consumer and food trade media is full of stories about “the end of meat as we know it” and, indeed, we’ve been banging on about “non-meat meats” for months – and for good reason. In the USA, plant-based burger companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat (which will be in UK restaurants and on shop shelves in 2018), lab.-grown “clean meat” Memphis Meats, Modern Meadows growing collagen-rich leather from animal cells, egg-mimicking mayo-producer Hampton Creek, and others have attracted over $1 Billion in start-up finance from the likes of Bill & Melinda Gates, Li Ka-shing, Google’s Larry Page and other Silicon Valley noteables. Their rationale is partly altruistic but, partly, driven by the belief that the agriculture and food industry is due for massive disruption just as, concomitantly, the way that food and groceries arrive in our homes is being transformed via electronic platforms à la Amazon and Alibaba, and recipe kit start-up companies such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, with delivery agents Deliveroo and Uber Eats spreading like wild mushrooms across the globe.
We recognise that there are pundits aplenty who take a cynical dyspeptic view that most of the above are ne’er-do-well Ponzi schemes that are bound to implode. Indeed, many will not make it but, do you doubt Amazon’s ability to change the rules of the grocery retailing game? Getting back to meat, available in 19 countries is 32 year old mycoprotein Quorn, now owned by Monde Nissin of The Philippines. Hardly new on the block, Quorn within the next couple of years will be the first $ Billion meat analogue in our world and it continues to cheekily labelling itself as “Meat-Free Chicken”!
Let’s nail our dietary preferences to the mast” David is a meat and 3 veg. baby boomer – a solid meat supporter although a little girly on portion size; Generation Xer Miguel is Spanish (or he may be – he’s from Barcelona , you know!) and Iberians wallop back way more meat per capita in toto (including seafood) than Brits do and consider vegetarian a term of abuse. Our headline views on meat include the following:
- We’re at the apex of the species triangle because of meat. Our ability to hunt and eat raw meat, then, control fire to cook it, improve its taste and accelerate digestion rapidly grew the size of our brains. We are brainy because we eat meat – if we hadn’t, the other higher primates would have had us on toast (metaphorically, of course, because they are largely vegetarian). Remember, they’ve got opposable thumbs, too!
But, because we’re brainy (or, at least, brainier than most chimpanzees), social and emotional we’ve got some issues we have to handle with meat and, in particular, with red meat which are both real and perceptual:
- Most humans have got this unfortunate penchant that if we really like doing something and we’ve got the economic wherewithal to do it, we tend to do it to excess (Americans excel at this). This underpins growing concerns that as the global population increases and incomes grow commensurately, the so-called “emerging world” will gollop down “developed country” portions of meat and, then, we’ll run out of land, and bugger up the environment growing crops to feed to animals that convert them inefficiently. Grain-fed beef is a particular target in this regard. But no livestock species is spared. Brazilian rain forests can be felled to turn into pasture or into farm land that can grow corn and soybeans whether this be fed to cattle, pigs, poultry, or fish for that matter. Cutting to the chase, carbon sequestration is and will be increasingly a big issue for the livestock and meat industry;
- Focussing on red meat, cattle and sheep are brilliant at converting grass into absolutely yummy meat (and dairy products) for our tables. This is fabulous because humans are particularly poor at digesting cellulose and gaining any nutrition from it – and if we could, who’d want a fescue sandwich? But, the real bummer is that our much-loved ruminants produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide whilst catering for our red meat and dairy product preferences. All the scientific evidence shows that these greenhouse gasses are significant contributors to global warming which is bad for all of us (with the possible exception of self-interested Canadian Prairie farmers – nobody farms North of them, you know).
- Animal welfare is a large and growing concern and for sound reasons. This is by no means to belittle the huge issues under this complex canopy, but the level of consumer concern is linked to the size of the animal at slaughter – ruminants en route to red meat for our tables such as doe-eyed cattle and gambolling lambs are a particular target of concern for consumers, mind you so are monogastric pigs (curse that anthropomorphic Babe).
- We’re living longer but not necessarily healthier and meat gets a bad rap in some quarters. Two years ago, WHO identified red meat as being probably carcinogenic and processed meats as being definitely so. Clap trap? Our view is that homo sapiens was probably not programmed genetically to shovel down 100+ kg. of meat per person per year. Governments who, in many countries, carry the can via taxpayers for the cost of the nation’s health, are increasingly signalling that we should eat 500 grms. of red meat per week not 500 grms. for dinner! This pressure will continue inexorably.
So, where are we? Meat industry folk have got a lot of issues on their plate to address; whereas ironically, in rich countries, consumers will have less meat on their plate! The impact of the above issues, the growing interest in plant-based proteins, flexitarian diets et al will all chip away at meat volume purchases per capita in our markets. But, Hallelujah – consumers with money are signalling that they might wish to eat less meat but, certainly, they want to eat better meats. Thus, the opportunity and challenge to work out what consumers value in their meat products and are willing to pay more for.
A good start would be for us to recognise that millennial and centennial consumers (and there are 4 billion of them worldwide) don’t awake with the driving ambition to have red meat today. Soylent devotees apart (you know, the meal in a bottle folk), most consumers expect the food industry to come up with tasty, affordable and quintessentially convenient meal and snack solutions and NOT problems. Yet, the antediluvian “half shoulder knuckle on” lamb product still lurks in the freezer bins of most supermarkets – acknowledged only by poor pensioners and dog lovers and eschewed by anyone under the age of 40 as they recoil from the apocalyptic sight that puts them in mind of an axe murder. We’re astonished that some retailers still display fresh meat by species – i.e. the beef/pork/chicken/lamb sections – and not by usage/occasion – e.g. meal in under 10 mins./special friends coming/for the kids sections. But don’t start Miguel ranting on about the British foible of having special dumb meals for children. “What’s wrong with giving them smaller portions of whatever the adults are having”, he says. You know those quirky Mediterraneans!
Whilst increasing protein intake is seriously on-trend with many consumers, there’s much more than red meat in their protein selection set. Remember, too, that the 3 meals a day approach to feeding the body and social soul is fragmenting. Mini-meals and snacks are the order of the day. Red meat snacks? Ah, the renaissance of jerky. Miguel was at a fish conference in Dublin last week and dashing through the airport he noticed the protein-on-the-go product below. A snip at £3.59 per 25 grm. pack. Do the maths and rejoice in the commercial anticipation of opportunities for brain-building, story-packed red meat! Red Alert on Red Meat? Beef and Lamb have their issues, but let’s celebrate that they are premium products and ensure that consumers are happy to pay more for them.