It's no secret that the sales of plant-based foods continue to surge, as consumer preferences shift and more Americans say they want to eat meatless products more of the time. Companies from Nestle to Cargill have shifted focus to begin creating more plant-based products to meet the growing demand, and now David MacLennan, CEO of the food giant Cargill predicts that plant-based protein will significantly cut into the sales of meat, noting that he and his company are aware of the changing consumer preferences.

“Our analysis is that in three to four years plant-based will perhaps be 10 percent of the market. We’re a large beef producer and that is a big part of our portfolio,” MacLennan said. “So there’s some cannibalization that will occur.”

Right now, 70 percent of Americans say it would be healthier if people ate less meat and 58% would like to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, according to a 2020 survey by the food market research firm Datassential, according to a Bloomberg Green article. Meanwhile, the plant-based food industry is projected to grow to 100 times larger by 2050, according to an industry report produced by the investment bank Credit Suisse.

Global food giants commit big investments into plant-based products

But with global giants like Nestle building a $100 billion plant in China to produce meat-free options, and Cargill has also announced its intentions to launch a line of plant-based products in China, while McDonald's, KFC, and others have begun to roll out plant-based parties and nuggets, the future seems clearly biased toward a public that craves choice.

Suddenly what once looked like a niche market, owned by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, is taking a giant step into the mainstream. MacLennan made his comments at the National Grain and Feed Association convention, where he revealed that Cargill is researching plant-based protein alternatives using corn as its base. (Beyond uses pea protein and Impossible uses soy protein.) The company hopes to enter the plant-based protein industry to compete with these pioneering companies and be better prepared for the future market profile where more than half of consumers now self-identify as "flexitarians," who lean into plant-based eating but do not cut out all meat or consider themselves plant-based or vegan.

“We’re not only thinking about North American launches, but across the globe,” Cargill released in a statement to Food Navigator. “Corn protein is a great protein for meat alternatives because it’s got a great neutral flavor profile and really good performance.”

Cargill starting investing in the plant-based industry for its North American and Asian branches, claiming that it aims to produce plant-based proteins that will rival Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Beyond its products, Cargill also plans to develop food ingredients that it will supply to other food companies globally. The company also recently partnered with PURIS Foods to become the largest North American distributor and manufacturer of pea protein.

“PURIS is a game-change in terms of taste and vertical integration in pea protein,” Vice President of Cargill Starches, Sweeteners, and Texturizers David Henstrom said. “Cargill is excited to expand into the emerging pea protein space while continuing to support our conventional agricultural crops. It’s clear that PURIS is in alignment with Cargill’s vision to meet the growing demand for protein globally and to help customers deliver label-friendly products without sacrificing taste.”

The meat company launched its first plant-based protein chicken at three locations of fast-food restaurant KFC in China. The trial saw substantial success, leading to Cargill debuting its PlantEver plant-based brand across China. The PlantEver brand includes plant-based chicken nuggets and burger patties. Following that success, Cargill co-branded a range of plant-based foods with Japanese-based company Lawson that featured vegan scallops and plant-based chicken tenders.

The meat industry - specifically the beef sector - continues to face pressure from the consumer base. As more consumers discovered the link between environmental damages and the meat industry, meat is put in the spotlight as a risky, unsustainable market.

"Beef is under a whole lot of pressure," director of Yale University's Program on Climate Change Communications. "It was the shift in the market forces that was the death knell for coal. And it's the same thing here. It's going to be the shift in consumer tastes and preference, not some regulation."

With environmental issues at the forefront, American consumers are shifting away from meat-heavy diets. A 2020 survey found that seventy percent of consumers believe that ditching meat is healthier. Beyond that, the report discovered that 5 percent of consumers would like to eat more plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Tyson Foods also moved towards the plant-based sector earlier this year. The company released its Raised & Rooted range of plant-based foods at retailers nationwide. The company hopes to capitalize on a growing plant-based clientele, marking another time a giant meat distributor felt impacted by the plant-based consumer behavior.

Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Protein According to a Nutritionist


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