Consumption of meat alternative products made from plants and cell cultured meats is likely to outpace the traditional vegan or vegetarian categories over the next couple of decades.

That is according to research by UK-based consultancy AT Kearney, which predicts consumption of meat cultured from cells will rise at a compound annual growth rate of 41% from 2025 to 2040, compared to 9% for plant-based ‘meats’, or what it classifies as novel vegan meat replacements. 

In turn, people are likely to consume 3% less meat by 2040 as demand for environmentally-friendly alternatives gathers pace, the report – How Will Cultured Meat and Meat Alternatives Disrupt the Agricultural and Food Industry – concludes following input from a group of scientists.

The rise of plant-based meat products has intensified this year as more and more global food companies embrace the trend in fear of getting left behind, with categories outside of meat also now starting to play a greater role. A case in point is Beyond Meat, a US start-up that claimed it could not satisfy demand quickly enough for its signature meat-free burger when it first launched last year, while more recently investors scrambled to snap up shares at the firm’s debut share offering.

Cell-cultured meat, meanwhile, is still in the nascent stages of development.

AT Kearney’s research suggests demand for what it terms as classic vegan and vegetarian meat replacements, those based on ingredients such as tofu, mushrooms and seitan, is unlikely to stretch beyond the present trend because they “lack the sensory profile to convince average consumers” who traditionally eat meat.

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By GlobalData

So the growth potential for imitation vegan and vegetarian meat products is “limited to the nature and size of the corresponding consumer type (for example, vegan, vegetarian, and ethical attitude and standards)”. It also reaches a similar conclusion for insect-based meat products.

The report continues: “In contrast, novel vegan meat replacements and cultured meat have the potential to disrupt the US$1tn conventional meat industry. This is in line with industry experts often referring to novel vegan meat replacements as ‘Generation 0’ and cultured meat as ‘Generation 1.'” 

Meat alternatives will likely have the most impact on the agricultural and conventional meat industry, the report notes, valuing the sector at $1tn, with consumer goods manufacturers and retailers seeing less of an impact. 

“FMCG and retailers sell end products, be it meat or meat replacements, to end-consumers and are less affected – if at all – by new products and changing customer behaviour.”

The research puts the value of the plant-based meat market at around $4.6bn last year and projects growth of 20% to 30% per annum for the “next several years”.

“As this represents a small fraction of the $1bn global meat market, a lot of upside potential remains,” the report said. 

Citing industry experts, the research suggests the novel vegan meat category is more “relevant in the transition phase toward cultured meat, whereas the latter will be most relevant in the long term”. 

“The predicted triumph of cultured meat is based on the compatibility of sustainability and a tailor-made nutrition through meat products, from low to premium quality, able to satisfy the diverse consumer types and preferences.”

Centres are also starting to emerge around plant-based and cultured meat production similar to what was seen in the Silicon Valley era with the rise of advanced computer chips, and are attracting enterprises to cities and countries such as California, Israel and the Netherlands, and in turn fostering interest among graduates and academics. 

The report concludes: “With the advantages of novel vegan meat replacements and cultured meat over conventionally produced meat, it is only a matter of time before meat replacements capture a substantial market share. The agriculture and conventional meat industry will feel the impact first.”