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Published March 25th, 2021

Rapidly Growing and Very Dynamic Global Alternative Protein Market

Meat is the primary protein source from human-consumed animal products.

Most consumers want the traditional meat experience to which they are accustomed, with good taste, convenience, and low prices.

But many consumers now also want to reduce meat consumption due to health, environment, and animal ethics concerns.

Animal agriculture is currently the cheapest means of growing meat because production efficiency has increased over the last couple of decades, and governments provide subsidies. It also leverages the existing infrastructure, distribution system, consumer behaviour and tastes.

However, the situation is rapidly changing as alternative-protein technologies mature and scale up.

Nowadays, it is possible to observe several meat alternative technologies differing in terms of sensory profile, costs, healthiness, sustainability, scalability, and tech readiness, as Figure 1 shows.

The main categories are:

  • Plant-based meat analogues
    The creation of meat-like foods from plants, often applying innovative processing techniques and a creative set of plant ingredients. Today's plant-based meat analogues have significantly improved compared with the first-generation products of some years ago. "Food-as-software" is becoming mainstream as nowadays companies release "generations" or "versions" of plant-based meat analogues to learn and adapt their product offerings quickly.
  • Fermentation-based meat analogues
    The use of industrial fermentation to grow proteins without the involvement of an animal but with similar functional and nutritional values. One example is employing genetic engineering of microorganisms as cellular factories (e.g., using bacteria, yeast, or fungi to synthesize the desired product). The primary fermentation types are traditional, biomass and precision fermentation. The cost of novel fermentation approaches is declining rapidly, and this technology will become increasingly important in the next couple of years to deliver valuable ingredients to complement plant-based meat analogues and beyond.
  • Cultivated meat and cellular agriculture
    The growing of real meat without the use of an animal by cell isolation, cell proliferation via nutritious media in a bioreactor, and cell differentiation and structuring via scaffolds. All parts in the cultivated meat production process depend on each other, and different input factors (e.g., type of cell, bioreactor, scaffold) as well as outputs (e.g., pure muscle, fat or blood vessel cells or end product like meat) can be differentiated.
  • Vegan hybrid meat analogues
    A combination of plant-based, fermentation-based meat analogues and cultured meat.

Traditional animal-grown meat and the various meat alternative technologies will move into different meat segments in the upcoming decades based on the underlying criteria shown in Figure 1.

Next to meat, which represents the biggest protein market for human food consumption, different alternative technology segmentations exist for fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based products.

In addition to the different technology segments, we observe that alternative protein companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods launch versions of their products similar to the software industry.

This emphasizes that food is becoming more like a technology business ("Food-as-software"). The development towards quickly launching products and iterating them based on market feedback underlines the fast-paced and highly dynamic environment in which alternative protein companies operate.

This strongly differs from conventional and very stable food businesses. In addition, alternative protein companies are expanding fast to several countries and distribution channels.

Figure 2 shows the company history of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, illustrating their rapid development.

All in all, the alternative protein market is still small, with around 2% of the global protein market for human consumption.

That said, it has already reached a size of more than US$ 25 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 10 – 25%, given the information available today.

However, the growth rate will likely increase when "trigger points" of some trends are reached.

This will lead to mass market adaption, such as a price decrease to 5 – 10% above traditional animal product prices or lower.

These points in time – also referred to as "crossing the chasm" – will be essential for the alternative protein disruption.

Figure 3 shows the increasing rate of investments, underlining the trend and expectations towards alternative protein disruption.

This post is the second piece of a five-part article series that explores how corporates and investors across the value chain are using different organic and inorganic models to enter and grow in the alternative protein sector.

To learn more, check out the rest of the series below.

Traditional food and many other companies are getting in on the action
Learn why many traditional food and biotech companies are starting to embrace the demand for alternative protein products and ingredients.
The Boom of the Alternative Protein Sector: 7 Growth Strategies for corporations
Corporates and investors have a range of options to enter and grow in the alternative protein sector. In this article you’ll find seven growth strategies that are working well today.
M&A as the predominant way to enter the alternative protein sector
Traditional food companies are turning to acquisitions as a way to enter the alternative protein market. Here's how they do it.
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