Menu Menu

Fake meat sales plummet reigniting the ‘plant-based fad’ debate

Once championed as a way to simultaneously prevent animal cruelty and fight the climate crisis, the protein alternative industry looks to be tanking. This poses the question: is the veganism hype losing its spark?

In recent years, it’s become common knowledge that replacing the dearth of meat in the average person’s diet with plant-based alternatives is a sure-fire way to prevent animal cruelty and fight the climate crisis.

These substitutes – which are far more resource conservative, environmentally friendly to produce, and give the livestock industry space to pivot towards more ethical practices – soared in popularity post-lockdown especially, as the pandemic gave consumers an opportunity to consider being more socially conscious.

Ever since, start-ups like Impossible Foods, Tofurky, and Quorn have risen to fame, with the market at large now said to be worth over £1.7bn.

Not to mention that you’d be hard-pressed to traverse the supermarket aisles these days without spotting at least a few meat-free options on the shelves.

This being said, however, some new reports claim that interest in the vegan protein market is waning, after it was brought to light that Beyond Meat’s net revenue dropped by 30.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2023.

It isn’t the only one struggling, either.

During the last 12 months, the Leeds-based fake meat company Meatless Farm (which provided vegan products to Byron Burgers, Itsu, and Pret A Manger) went into administration.

Meanwhile, the Yorkshire-based sausage brand Heck reduced its vegan range, cutting it down from 10 products to two. Others, including Oatly, Innocent, and Nestlé, have done the same.

Adding insult to injury, many vegan restaurants across the UK have been forced to close due to a drop in customers.

‘This change in perception is not without encouragement from interest groups who have succeeded in seeding doubt and fear around the ingredients and process used to create our and other plant-based meats,’ said Beyond Meat’s CEO Ethan Brown, who blames the meat industry for stoking fears that vegan foods are overly processed and unhealthy.

Aside from this, the lack of interest is believed to be attributable to the fact that meat eaters who had previously experimented with vegan foods were finding the products too expensive amid the cost-of-living crisis, while vegans themselves were opting for a ‘back to basics’ approach and cooking with pulses and grains instead of fake meat.

Fuelling speculation that the entire sector is tanking; mainstream media has revisited the theory that vegan alternatives are a ‘fad.’

‘Beyond Meat, once the highflying harbinger of a plant-based meat revolution, took another beating on Wall Street this week,’ Time reported after Beyond Meat’s financial report was published.

One ‘plausible interpretation,’ according to the outlet, is that ‘the whole movement toward plant-based meat was nothing but a fad to begin with.’

Beyond Meat says higher priced alt-meats failing to attract cohorts

This sentiment was echoed by The Grocer, which wrote that ‘the vegan bubble may not have quite burst just yet, but there is no doubt it is deflating dramatically.’

Yet despite this ongoing debate about the plant-based meat industry’s longevity, many argue that these ‘downfalls’ are situational and don’t reflect the wider landscape.

As contrasting data suggests, the vegan food category is actually growing, with animal meat and milk sales on the decline and their sustainable substitutes hitting record highs.

On this note, it’s thought that the concept of eating ‘fake meat’ is what’s falling out of fashion, rather than veganism itself, which was for the most part proved by Veganuary in February, when it reported that more than 700,000 people had taken in its annual month-long pledge to the diet.

Whatever the case, Beyond Meat and its counterparts refuse to lose hope.

‘We remain steadfast in our belief that plant-based meat, and Beyond Meat specifically, will play an important part in the global response to a climate crisis that appears to be rapidly intensifying, while also delivering health benefits to the individual consumer,’ said Brown.

‘We know there is a lot of noise surrounding the plant-based meat category, and as a leader in the space, it’s our job to educate consumers on the facts so they can see there’s goodness here that they will be inspired to be a part of.’