If, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, meat should be feeling pretty good about itself right now.
Creating meat alternatives designed to look, sizzle and taste like the real thing is one of the hottest trends in the food industry right now. And with its new Incogmeato line of plant-based burgers, bratwurst and sausage, Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms is one of the latest brands to join.
“Our chefs and culinary team spent a lot of time working through texture, flavor, cooking and overall mouthfeel to make sure that these products deliver on a better meat-like experience,” said Sara Young, general manager of plant-based proteins at the Kellogg Company.
While MorningStar Farms has been selling veggie alternatives made with the likes of black beans and mushrooms for more than 40 years, Incogmeato is the brand’s first offering specifically designed to mimic meat. All Incogmeato products are made with non-GMO soy and, depending on the particular item, feature an image of either a cartoon cow or pig disguised in a bowler hat, mustache and monocle on the packaging.
“Generation Z and Millennials are interested in more plant-based offerings, but what they’re most concerned about is it has to taste good and make them feel good,” Young added. “So, good for them and good for the planet.”
According to Young, it took over a year of work to develop the concept, create the products and secure the supply chain. Incogmeato’s burgers are available this month in the refrigerated section of retailers such as Kroger and Albertsons. Its bratwurst and sausage products are scheduled to hit store shelves later this June, in time for grilling season.
Kellogg’s is one of several major food conglomerates currently aiming to fulfill the growing demand for fake meat. Within the past 12 months, Nestle, Conagra and Tyson Foods have all issued press releases announcing new products from burgers to nuggets that fall within the plant-based protein segment.
Last May, in a report titled “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat,” analysts at Barclays estimated that demand for alternative meat over the next decade could grow to $140 billion, amounting to around 10% of the $1.4 trillion worldwide meat industry.
Still, the rise of fake meat isn’t guaranteed to be a smooth ascent. Earlier this year, restaurant chain Tim Hortons removed its Beyond Meat burger and breakfast sandwich from all locations in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia following lackluster demand.
“The product was not embraced by our guests as we thought it would be,” a spokesperson told Reuters.
“We’re positive on plant-based as a kind of structural growth opportunity for the industry,” said John Baumgartner, senior equity analyst, Wells Fargo. “But I think where we get crossed up a little bit is the long-term expectations versus the short-term expectations.”
In research published last October, Wells Fargo noted that in 1972, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that soy products would replace 10% to 20% of all processed meat by 1980. Today, however, meat alternatives make up less than 1% of the U.S. meat market, according to the report.
As more companies jump into the plant-based protein market, Baumgartner said it’s unlikely that all brands will survive.
“If this follows the path of any other category in the grocery store, all you probably need is two or three national brands at most, and then private label,” he said. “So you’re clearly going to have, we think, a shakeout of this category over the next couple years.”
From the quick-service restaurant perspective, Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst at market research firm Mintel, said that much of the interest in plant-based alternatives is likely driven by excitement and desire to try something new. The danger is when the novelty wears off. At present, only 5% of U.S. consumers aged 18+ identify as vegetarian, while 2% identify as vegan, according to data from Mintel. One in five (21%) say they’re flexitarian, meaning they eat meatless meals some of the time. At the same time, members of Gen Z are more likely to be vegetarian (8%) or vegan (5%) than the general public.