As new market booms, which meat alternative will win out?

Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Still other innovators said the best way to change and improve the meat business is to simply reduce the amount of meat in a product by lacing it with vegetables. This has given rise to the so-called blended-meat products.

And beyond the nutrition debates, there are social arguments. Proponents of regenerative agriculture say their system can help restore rural America's economy. And Mighty Spark uses proceeds from its product sale to donate meals to those in need.

"Wherever you can see a benefit, there is a trade-off," said Jennifer Schmitt of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. "It matters what you care about" in determining what product you are going to choose.

But research continues to show that personal health and wellness remains the most important food attribute consumers seek. And in the weeks since the Beyond Meat IPO, a robust debate emerged about whether its products are nutritious.

"Regardless of what a professional (nutritionist) might tell you, the consumer perception is that these products are better for you than meat, and they are better for you then the first generation of meat alternatives were," Demeritt said. "I do think the jury is still out on whether that perception of health will change or not."

That's what Mighty Spark wants to educate consumers about. Its Southwest Patty is 50% chicken and 50% vegetable add-ins. Mighty Spark, with revenue just below $10 million in 2018, is quickly working to develop additional blended-meat products.

If everyone were to adopt products like this, it would be a good step toward reducing global meat consumption, said James Gerber, at the U's Institute on the Environment. "When you think about ... how we struggle and fight over car efficiency standards of 5% change per year and here is 50% stat, that's huge," Gerber said.

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Demeritt said she thinks blended products are the most likely to succeed long-term. "They have some of those taste attributes and the consumer feels good about eating less meat," she said.

As for all the companies bashing one another, Harris of White Oak Pastures in Georgia, hopes producers keep their minds open and let the products do the talking. "What's true is there are many, many consumers, that have their own reasons for eating or not eating something and we as producers should be respectful of that and we should do that by respecting the truth of what we do," Harris said.

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