Report: Vegan Meat Alternatives On Track to Become Cheaper Than Beef
One of the main reasons people won't try plant-based meat alternatives is the price. But as the cost of beef and pork has steadily risen in recent months, and the price of alternative meat products made with pea protein and other plant-based ingredients is expected to fall, the price gap is expected to be erased by 2023.
So far the gap is still significant, at $3.95 for a pound of beef and $7.79 for a pound of Beyond Meat, but a new report from the Good Food Institute (GFI) revealed that price parity could happen far sooner than expected. Their calculation shows that the price of plant-based meat is projected to fall below that of conventional meat in 2023, allowing customers the option of affordable alternative proteins.
The nonprofit organization conducted the study alongside consumer research firm Mindlab to examine the consumer motivators for plant-based meat. While taste is consistently the most important factor for consumers, the study discovered that price ranked second. Plant-based meat is increasingly becoming more mainstream, but the researchers noted that to achieve widespread acceptance and demand, price parity is essential for the alternative protein market.
"We anticipate this gap [in price] shrinking as plant-based producers increasingly scale up production, achieve economies of scale, and seek price parity with their conventional competitors," the report found. "Indeed, the price gap is smaller for more developed categories like milk and butter."
Recent Neilson data reveals that as of today, plant-based meat is approximately twice as expensive as conventional beef, three times as expensive as pork, and four times as expensive as chicken. So for many consumers, purchasing plant-based meat is still a stretch, when it comes to allotting their family food budgets. The study emphasizes that by closing the price gap, the plant-based meat industry will open itself up to new consumers. The study authors posit that when production becomes more efficient and meat prices continue at inflationary rates, prices could reach parity within a year.
“Reaching price parity comes down to scale,” Corporate Engagement Project Manager at GFI Emma Ignaszewski told VegNews. “Making the plant-based meat supply chain more efficient and more resilient to risks can result in lower costs for the manufacturer—and ultimately, more affordability for the consumer.”
Plant-based meat growing in popularity
Plant-based protein is becoming popular worldwide, appearing more often in retail and foodservice distributors than ever before. Vegan meat is appearing on restaurant menus 1,320 percent more since the start of the pandemic. The accelerated growth of the plant-based meat industry will allow vegan brands to scale up production. By maximizing production capabilities, plant-based companies will begin to truly compete with the larger animal agricultural giants.
The Good Food Institute report also points to another study conducted by investment firm Blue Horizon and business consultants BCG. That 2021 report found that achieving price parity would be the most effective method of undercutting sales of animal meat worldwide. While consumers are motivated by sustainability and health benefits to try plant-based foods, price differentials are a significant deterrent. The report projects that by 2032, enough meat and dairy alternatives will exist to eclipse the animal-agriculture sector for market share.
The BCG report predicts that the plant-based proteins made from soy, peas, and other sources could first reach parity in 2023, but other meat alternatives will follow closely behind. The report notes that price parity will occur for protein substitutes made from microorganisms such as yeasts, single-celled algae, and fungi in the next phase of growth of these products. Cultured meat, grown in the lab, could potentially meet price parity within the decade. By making all three alternative products – pea protein, new microprotein, and eventually cultured meat – more affordable options, eventually, consumers will see meat and dairy products as prohibitive, at which point they could become obsolete or at least a rare luxury for a significant number of consumers.
“None of this can happen unless consumers are happy with the taste of plant-based meat products. It doesn’t help to scale up something consumers won’t purchase,” Ignaszewski said. “So above all, companies have to make plant-based products that come ever closer to tasting the same as or better than conventional meat. Scaling a plant-based product that tastes just like conventional meat—or better—to the point that it also reaches price parity is a golden formula.”
Is Plant-Based Really Cheaper?
Plant-based meat options have rapidly become more affordable over the last decade. Last year when chicken prices started surging, the plant-based company Alpha Foods realized the potential for cheaper meat alternatives. Calling the surge “chickenflation,” the vegan brand promised to cut its own products’ cost by every cent that the price of conventional chicken went up. Companies across the plant-based sector have been working to make products accessible to the public, and now, plant-based meat will soon be achievable on a budget.
Despite the room to improve regarding plant-based meat, vegan eating is still remarkably cheaper for consumers than a meat-heavy diet. People can save up to nearly 30 percent on food by switching to a plant-based diet. By increasing vegetable and fruit consumption, people cut down on unnecessary dairy- and meat-filled products that spike up grocery costs.
One report from researchers at Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences concluded that people can save $1,260 annually by switching to a plant-based diet. Soon, people aiming to save money will have nothing deterring their next plant-based protein purchase, because, by next year, plant-based eating will be more affordable in every category.