‘Meatless’ Meat: Opportunities for Plant-based Protein Ingredients

Published on 03 Sep, 2019

Rising concerns over environmental protection, coupled with growing health consciousness and popularity of concepts such as veganism, have created the need for meatless sources of protein. Plant-based protein ingredients are rapidly gaining acceptance as an alternative and their market share is increasing fast.

Protein is a key macronutrient, along with fats and carbohydrates, to ensure good health. It is essential as it builds and repairs tissues, produces hormones, enzymes and performs other vital functions in the human body. While meat remains the traditional source of protein, plant-based proteins are picking up fast, especially in developed nations with higher disposable income.



Application Areas

End Industries


Meat, Milk, Fish, Eggs

Food Ingredients: Functional added proteins (gelling capacity)

Enhanced nutritional profile (fortification)

Food & Beverage
Personal Care & Cosmetics
Infant Formulations


Pulses – Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils
Grains – Wheat, Rice, Soy

Ingredient replacements (whey)

Emerging Technologies: Packaging (biodegradable and edible films), Nanotechnology (nanoparticles), Encapsulation (hydrogels)

Table 1: Protein Ingredients Market – Application Areas and End Industries

In fact, the global market for protein ingredients (Table 1) is expected to expand at a CAGR of about 7% to ~$47B in 2025 from ~$27B in 2017. The projection factors in the key role protein plays in a healthy diet. Furthermore, according to a study by FIGlobal, a leading F&B event platform, food & beverage launches claiming to have ‘high/added protein’ increased 26% globally over 2014–17.

Going by a Nielsen Global online survey in which over 30,000 respondents across 63 countries were covered, 23% consumers across the world are trying to reduce their meat intake; this is boosting the demand for plant-based proteins on retail shelves. In North America, one of the largest meat consuming countries, plant-based options appeal to a larger consumer base, beyond vegetarians and vegans. (Chart 1)

Chart 1: North America – Plant-based Protein Preference According to Lifestyle Choices

Another study conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association, US, shows that plant-based food sales grew a robust 20% in the year ended June 16, 2018 (Product break-down: Table 2) to $3.3B. However, globally, growth in total food sales is limited to just 2% per year, which implies that the industry is no longer considered niche, with its growth outpacing that in overall food sales by 10X.

Table 2: US Growth in Plant-based Alternatives (2018)

Why this increased interest in plant proteins?
Aranca has curated a series of trends, majorly fueled by factors such as high nutritional value, increased dairy prices, concerns about sustainability, and the popularity of heart-healthy plant-based diets that could establish the growing demand for this macronutrient variety.

Awareness About Sustainability – Plant-based Foods Have Much Lower Carbon Footprint

The global population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. Also, income levels in developing markets are increasing. Amid rising income, demand for animal-based protein is expected to increase.

According to a study conducted by Euromonitor International in September 2017, 64% of the total added protein to be sourced by 2020 is expected to be derived from animals (74% and 500% increase in demand for meat and egg, respectively); this would put enormous pressure on natural resources.

Currently, over 150 million land animals are slaughtered for food each day; including wild cattle and farmed fish, the figure reaches

three billion. Livestock cultivation is extremely greenhouse-gas intensive and not sustainable. It puts pressure on resources (such as water, land, feed, fertilizer, and fuel) that are anyways limited, and waste disposal capacity. A study by the Institute of Food Technologies in September 2018 reached the following conclusions: animal protein is not sustainable; 33% of arable land globally is used to grow animal feed; 26% of Earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface is used for grazing; 8% of water is used for livestock cultivation, including irrigation for livestock feed cultivation; and livestock cultivation accounts for 15% of total GHG emissions.

Plant-based foods have a much lower carbon footprint (Table 3)—professionals in the plant protein industry state that the resources required to produce just 1 lb of animal protein can provide 10 lb of plant protein.

Table 3: Global Greenhouse Gases Emissions by Produce (kg/100g of produce)

Decreased Cost of Production
Another factor contributing to the demand for vegetarian protein alternatives is the high cost of raising animals for food. Expenses incurred by meat producers have increased exponentially amid narrow margins, longer planning cycles, and rising cost of raw materials. For example, when dairy prices hit their peak in 2015, soy isolates cost about $7000, nearly $4000 less than whey isolates (according to data recorded by Burcon NutraScience, a leading protein technology firm). Additionally, soy isolates are frequently used as substitutes for the costlier egg or dairy alternatives in packaged foods as thickening, foaming, and emulsifying agents.

As the shelf life of animal protein-based food products is quite low, manufacturers need to make high investments in preservatives to retain quality and freshness.

Several meat-focused specialty ingredient companies such as Cargill, ADM, Roquette and Cosucra are now prioritizing plant-based proteins. While soy remains the prime plant protein, demand for newer ingredients such as peas, oil seeds, and algae is increasing. Of these, demand for pea protein is the highest due to its low cost of production. Intending to enter the fast growing pea protein market, ADM is building a dedicated facility in North Dakota, scheduled for completion in 2019. Other companies that have added pea protein manufacturing capacity include AGT Food Canada, Roquette France, Cosucra Belgium, and Emsland Germany. Global powerhouse Cargill is breeding pea crops for higher protein content.

Health Benefits
While meat remains the top source of protein, its consumption is fraught with several issues related to health, such as high cholesterol levels, diseases like colon cancer, heart ailments, obesity, and atherosclerosis.


Animal Protein

Plant Protein

Essential Amino Acids


Need to be combined/added

Protein Absorption






Biological Value




No Fiber

High Fiber






No Cholesterol

Table 4: Nutritional Comparison of Animal and Plant Protein

Notably, when the World Health Organization categorized bacon and ham as carcinogenic in 2015, consumers panicked. Amid the resultant increase in awareness and health consciousness, per-capita consumption of meat, specifically red meat, declined 15% in the in US same year (data provided by USDA). Preference for vegetarian substitutes, with higher nutritional value and similar taste and texture, has grown.

Launch of Innovative Products
A key deterrent in the shift to “meatless” meat is the lack of willingness to compromise on taste, price, and convenience/easy access.

On a positive note, the vegetarian protein space is abuzz with innovations, with popular American food brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods developing substitutes for otherwise meat-dominated meals (for instance, burgers). Ingredients such as peas, beet, coconut, and soy are used to prepare meals that taste like meat. Also, to ensure availability and ease of use, these companies are working toward placing their products on the shelves of most food stores in frozen forms.

The switch to innovative plant-based alternatives is reflected in statistics provided by Nielsen in 2018 that indicated double-digit growth in this product segment in recent years.

Sales Growth(2018)

To tap demand, traditional meat companies such as Perdue Farms, Cargill, Tyson, and Hormel Foods are making investments in meatless alternatives as well. Several companies in the meat industry are entering the ‘meatless’ meat space and rebranding themselves as ‘protein companies’. For example, Tyson Food bought 5% stake in Beyond Meat, while Danone bought Whitewave, a plant-based food company manufacturing organic salads and almond milk, for ~$10B in 2017.

In conclusion
Considering its expected 7% growth, the plant-based protein alternative market could outpace the animal-based protein market over the next 8–10 years.

Several meat-focused specialty ingredient companies are shifting to plant-based alternatives owing to low cost of production and higher sustainability of the raw material. Additionally, with demand among consumers increasing due to perceived health benefits, the market is expected to grow, creating ample opportunities for several companies across the ingredient and food value chain.