Sensory test

In five year’s time will we acknowledge that plant meats were a one-time fad?

Beyond Meat’s shares took another pounding last week closing below $15, a massive drop from their peak of $239 in 2019.

The company is now forecasting revenues of $400-425m for 2022 versus $465m in 2021. Management is cutting 19% of the workforce; that’s never a good sign.

In a statement the company acknowledged it had been, “negatively impacted by ongoing softness in the plant-based meat category overall, especially in the refrigerated subsegment, and by the impact of increased competition.” 

A few weeks ago Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods revealed it had reduced the size of its plant-based business and was slashing marketing spend.

In June 2022 Kellogg announced they were spinning off their plant meat business, Morning Star Farms.

The issue does not seem to be geography specific either. In the UK, Kantar, the market research group, reported anaemic 3% YTD category growth for plant meats versus 14% in 2021. 

I suspect that consumer penetration has hit a brick wall, and amongst trialists repeat rates are probably weakening. 

In most markets less than 10% of consumers identify as vegetarian. In big markets like the US and the UK it’s around 6%. India is the big outlier where the number exceeds 20%. Here’s a question, is it right to assume plant meats appeal to vegetarians?

Some argue that ‘flexitarians’ are plant meat’s key consumer audience. (The Flexitarian Diet was conceived by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietician.) Flexitarians are not vegetarians per se, however they focus on plants as their main source of protein rather than meats.

Photo: Food Insight

In our business we extensively use consumer and segmentation studies to identify who to target and identify key drivers and barriers to purchase. Many companies, sometimes including the biggest ones, make the mistake of targeting the wrong demographic. I am wondering how large this ‘Flexitarian’ cohort actually is.

Many of the plant meat offers are sold at a significant premium to meat. The current inflationary environment when shoppers are juggling rising mortgages and utility bills does not help.

Product delivery is critical. Flavours group Kerry argue that taste is a key concern for consumers, with 41% citing it as their top concern. Kerry’s consumer research reveals plant meats are often described as ‘beany’, ‘bitter’ or ‘cardboard like’.  

When I worked for Nestlé ongoing 60-40 consumer preference was a perpetual Management mantra¹. ‘Ongoing’ is the key word, it requires continual reformulation and recipe enhancement lest the consumer goes elsewhere.

Do plant meats deliver on 60-40 amongst Flexitarians and Vegetarians? 

Photo: Agroscope

Delivering on 60-40 with a great value for money offer is the only way the plant meat category can survive.

¹60-40 means 60% or more of the target audience prefer your product over the closest competitor. Tests are typically blind.

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