The past year has given rise to a plethora of alternative-meat companies that fall into different segments and claim different advantages over regular meat and each other.
Beyond Meat and Impossible make fake meat from non-animal ingredients. Cultured meat is grown in a lab from the cells of animals. Blended-meat products, like Applegate's Blend Burger or Mighty Spark's Southwest Chicken Patty, aim to reduce the amount of meat in a product by mixing in vegetables, beans and nuts.
And then there is the regenerative-agriculture movement, led by firms like White Oak Pastures, Harris' Georgia-based company that supplies meat to Epic Provisions, a General Mills brand. Such producers rotate animal grazing and take other steps that some said more than offset the carbon cost of raising an animal on a farm.
The more that industry creates new, exciting options, the more consumers will experiment, Demeritt said. "People are looking for a diversity of choices because they are eating (protein) so much," she said.
Vegetarianism and veganism rates remain relatively flat, while consumer willingness to swap out some meat for some plant-based options is growing. But advances in food technology have led to a flood of new options that are moving the segment far beyond the old black-bean or garden burger.
The lab-raised meat category attracted three times more investment capital, about $50 million, in 2018 than the year before, according to the Good Food Institute, an interest group advancing cell-based and plant-based meat alternatives. Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc., one of the world's largest meat processors, has invested in two cell-based meat startups, Memphis Meats and Aleph Farms.
Meanwhile, sales of plant-based meat alternatives grew 9.1% in the year ended May 19, according to SPINS, a Chicago-based consumer data firm that specializes in specialty and natural foods.
Proponents for both lab-raised and plant-based meat products said they provide a way to eat meat -- or a meat-like substance -- without contributing to the high greenhouse gas emissions commonly associated with traditional livestock farming.
Meanwhile, advocates of regenerative grazing said their product, when raised using the best practices, goes a step further by actually creating a carbon net-negative.
Harris points out that a recently completed life-cycle analysis by independent-research firm Quantis found that White Oak Pastures contributed a negative 3.5 kilograms of carbon for every kilogram of meat produced, while the Impossible Burger was a net emitter. But a separate life-cycle analysis by the same research firm found Impossible Burger reduced other environmental loads, including water use and methane emissions from cattle.