COLUMNISTS

Another challenge on the farm front

John Oncken
Take your choice of “Beyond" meats at Woodman's Markets.

The pandemic, labor shortages and fake meat have been among the most popular subjects written and talked about the past couple of years in the ag press. There is not a lot I can say about the pandemic except wear a mask and get your vaccine shots. 

As for the labor shortage in most all businesses including farms, no one seems to know where all the workers went but apparently they are not working and the mystery continues. 

Not only for vegans

Then there is the fake meat issue: As companies (including longtime agricultural firms) seem to be in a race to produce and market alternative (fake) meat-like products. The rise of meat alternatives was driven, researchers and marketing experts say, by one realization: that alternative meats didn’t have to be a niche product just for vegans or vegetarians who make up about 3% of the US population. There are lots of Americans who are meat eaters and always will be, but who are up for trying plant-based products as long as they’re tasty, cheap, and nutritious. 

New ways to make it

In recent years processors have found new ways and ingredients to make meat-like and taste-like meat products that are in the process of invading fast food outlets and grocery  stores across the land. I first began paying attention to the subject when Burger King began offering its Impossible Whopper (made with a soy protein concentrate, several oils including coconut and sunflower oil and various additives), about a year and a half ago. 

Take your choice of non-meat meats but they won’t taste like a real burger.

It’s everywhere

Now even the local grocery stores in the Madison area are selling fake meats including Beyond’s ground beef and KFC Chicken to Impossible’s sausage. In but one year, plant-based meat has gone from something very few Americans had never heard of to something that 40% of us have tried. Meat alternatives are clearly having their growing days and offering consumers a possible look at a different future for meat. 

Lots of livestock

US farmers raise beef, pork, lamb and poultry in staggering amounts, something some environmentalists see as contributing to climate change. 

Meat from the Angus is the best of the best.

Not a novelty

Some fast-food restaurants that early on sold plant-based foods to appeal to meat-conscious consumers, found the novelty is already wearing off—or slowing down after the Covid‑19 pandemic and lockdowns upended dining and eating. Instead of trying new things, Americans have been eating at home or seeking familiar, comforting foods when they do venture out.

Real beef ready for the cook.

Orders of plant-based burgers and sandwiches at fast-food restaurants were unchanged for the year ended in June, while beef burger orders climbed 12%, according to market researcher NPD Group Inc. “I don’t think that plant-based meat is at the top of the list for many restaurant operators right now,” says BTIG LLC analyst Peter Saleh.

Fake-meat products made from grain and vegetables.

Grocery sales

One place that restaurant tests and marketing are helping is in grocery store sales “A plant-based product can be viewed as something a little bit uncertain,” says Jennifer Bartashus of Bloomberg Intelligence. “The trial at restaurants gives people confidence in the taste and their ability that they can prepare the items themselves.”

It’s not chicken.

Now it’s the price

High price is one of the major restraining factors in the plant-based meat market today, but obviously that will change with time. 

We are watching the future develop and certainly the nation’s livestock growers will battle long and hard to maintain an industry that goes back to the beginning of time. The heavily processed nature of the fake meats will also enter the picture as consumers learn more.

John Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or at jfodairy2@gmail.com