“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.
But what does this mean for the Australian market? What fake meats are available? And should livestock producers be worried?
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A growing appetite for fake meat
So, what’s behind this growing appetite for fake meat? First, there’s the growth of meat-free lifestyles. More than two million Australians live a meat-free life, according to Roy Morgan Research, making it one of the hottest food trends of 2018.Unsurprisingly, Melbourne and Sydney are leading the charge.
Feeding into this some consumers’ concern for the environment. With the CSIRO sayinglivestock farming could represent up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, meat substitutes are not just being eaten by vegetarians and vegans, but others wishing to reduce their meat intake due tolivestock-production pressure.
Even celebrity status plays a role in the demand foralternative meat. Bill Gates backs Impossible Foods, a California-based company that makes meat from plants. Richard Branson, who predicts fake meat will supplant real meat production within 30 years, has a financial stake in Memphis Meats, which aims to mass-produce lab-grown meat. And Leonardo DiCaprio backs Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat maker. He said in a statement: “Livestock production is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Shifting from animal meat to the plant-based meats developed by Beyond Meat is one of the most powerful measures someone can take to reduce their impact on our climate.”
Types of fake meat
Plant-based meats can now be found on supermarket shelves, in markets and on restaurant menus across Australia. You can buy fish, duck, bacon, sausages and meat patties – though none of it is made from meat. What’s most surprising, as Sydney’s first vegetarian butcher, Suzy Spoon, told F&DB magazine, is that they are just as popular with meat eaters as they are with vegetarians and vegans.
At the bleeding edge of fake meat are Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, both based in the US’s Silicon Valley. The two companies use food technology to replicate real meat in smell, touch and taste. The Impossible Burger has even been served on Air New Zealand flights.
Seven years in the making, the Impossible Burger is a delicately engineered, lab-designed combination of plant-based protein, yeast extract, plant gums, spices and seasoning. Every detail has been carefully designed, with Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown creating “plant blood” from the iron-rich molecule heme, which is found in both animals and plants.
However, while plant-based meats are winning sales, experimental lab-grown meats are predicted to be at least a decade away from hitting the supermarket shelves. Unlike plant-based meat, which uses plant proteins to create meat substitutes, lab-grown meat is produced by cultivating cells in vitro. The cells are incubated and fed nutrients in a form of “cellular agriculture”.
Despite recent advances by lab-grown meat startup Meatable, Professor Robyn Warner from the University of Melbourne told the ABC she thinks it’s unlikely cell-based meat products will hit the shelves any time soon: “I think cultured meat could be commercially available in 10 years’ time, but there will be limitations to that. At the moment we can replicate a ground-meat product, like a hamburger, but meat is a complex structure comprised of muscle cells, embedded within the connective tissue, which has capillaries and blood vessels and fat cells, and the flavour of meat comes from 750 compounds.”
Fake meat brands in Australia
Plant-based meat substitutes are already on supermarket shelves in Australia.
Woolworths supermarkets around the country now stock Minced, a 100% plant-based mince product made by Funky Foods in Denmark. The mince is made from soy and wheat proteins, coconut, almonds, tomato and porcini mushrooms, with its colour from beetroot. Designed to look and taste close to minced beef, Funky Fields recommends to use it in dishes where you’d typically used minced beef, such as spaghetti bolognese, meatballs and burgers. It should come as no surprise that Funky Fields is on the front-foot with sustainable packaging – the packaging for all Funky Fields’ Minced products comprises at least 50% recycled plastic.
After a successful trial earlier in the year, Coles introduced the world-famous Beyond Burger across 200 NSW stores in November. Not to be outdone, IGA also launched the Beyond Burger across stores in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia.
It’s not only the supermarkets now offering plant-based burgers. Fast-food chain Lord Of The Fries introduced the Beyond Burger into its menu earlier in 2018, while Hungry Jack’s recently debuted a fully plant-based burger, the Vegan Burger, at select Australia locations. The 100% vegan patty is served with a plant-based mayo (“veganaise”) and non-dairy vegan cheese.
The fake meat debate
The biggest debate around fake meats in Australia and around the world has been around two issues:
- Should they be called “meat”?
- Should they be stocked in the supermarket’s meat section?
Earlier in 2018, France banned the use of “meat” and “dairy” related words from vegan and vegetarian food labels, reserving these terms for products of animal origin. Labels including phrases such as “vegetarian sausage”, “vegan bacon”, and even “almond milk”, are forbidden. The same debate over what defines “meat” is happening in Washington DC.
Here in Australia, the National Farmers Federation hasn’t followed the French in lobbying for naming bans. But some Australian farmers and National Party politicians were not impressed when Woolworths launched the plant-based mince product in the meat section of the supermarket. As MP Michael McCormack, leader of the National Party and Deputy PM, told the ABC: “Mince is mince, mince is meat. That’s my interpretation of what mince is.”
However, the chief executive of Beyond Meat, Ethan Brown, urged retailers to stock its products in the burger section as it opens up quality plant-based burgers to consumers who normally wouldn’t venture near the vegetarian or vegan products.
The future of fake meat
Meat-free is not a fad with an expiration date. Australian consumers are speaking with their wallets, sending a clear message that plant-based products are here to stay. Woolworth’s plant-based meat products and Coles’ Beyond Meat Burger are reportedly selling strongly – even with the controversy. It might be a contentious issue for farmers, but just as with nut milks, bottled water and organic foods, it’s also an opportunity for the food industry to innovate and meet evolving consumer demands.
This article offers great inspiration and practical advice on how Australian businesses can get ahead by being different.
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Image credit: iStock/ Sudowoodo