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Plant-based meat may no longer be animal-free

Producers of plant-based meat are now starting to rethink their ingredients amid a decline in demand.

As consumers have become more health conscious over the years, with the vegan lifestyle getting a boost in popularity, you would think that the demand for plant-based meat would be skyrocketing. Well, that seems to not be the case as the plant-based meat industry is facing a decline in demand. Now some companies who produce the knockoff meat are planning to add in an extra ingredient to make it taste more like the real thing: animal fat, according to a recent report from The Washington Post.

Plant-based meat spiked in popularity in 2016 when the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger — both made to look and taste like beef — launched and gained mainstream media attention. Some ingredients that make up plant-based meat include soy, potato, pea protein, artificial flavors, coconut oil, beans, etc. 

Now, start-up companies who produce plant-based meat products are experimenting with blending animal fat into plant-based ingredients as they are now prioritizing taste over sustainability, according to the Post. Companies also don’t mind straying away from its vegan and vegetarian customers as they are more interested in reaching a larger base of consumers.

According to a recent Gallup survey, in the United States, only 4% of Americans claim they are vegetarian and 1% vegan, revealing a slight decline to figures that were seen in previous years. In 2018, 5% of Americans in the survey claimed they were vegetarian, and 3% said they were vegan.

The market for plant-based meat substitutes also shrunk in 2023 as the estimated total retail sales declined by 3.6% year-on-year in the U.S., according to a report from market research company Mintel. The report also notes that the decline in sales could be attributed to a tight economy where consumers are attracted to more “affordable dietary choices” and are “hesitant to invest in unfamiliar products.”

In this photo illustration, a Beyond Meat produced burger is cooked in a pan on Nov. 21, 2022.

Consumers’ perceptions about plant-based meat products’ “taste and value” also can hinder market expansion, according to the report. This may be the reason why companies are now considering the inclusion of animal fat in plant-based meat to boost taste.

The move from start-up plant-based meat companies also comes after Beyond Meat, a leading plant-based vegan meat producer, has seen a decline in its stock price in recent years. In around late 2020, the company had a stock price of around $194 per share, and it has since declined to $6 a share.

In the company’s 2023 third-quarter earnings, it reported that it had a net revenue of $75.3 million, which is a 8.7% decrease compared to the $82.5 million it bought in during the same time period a year before.

​​“Though we are encouraged by pockets of growth, particularly in the EU where we saw double digit gains in net revenues on a year-over-year basis, we are disappointed by our overall results as we continue to experience worsening sector-specific and broader consumer headwinds,” said Beyond Meat President and CEO Ethan Brown in the earnings report.