The consumption of food like chickpea patties, insects and lab-grown meat is on the rise and challenging traditional meat industries, according to an international report.
The report by agribusiness specialist Rabobank warns the Australian meat industry should not be complacent, as changing consumer preferences drive the growth of the alternative protein industry.
Alternative protein industry booming
Rabobank head of research in Australia and New Zealand Tim Hunt said farmers and food companies should be watching these developments closely.
“There are a range of push and pull factors that are driving people towards what is not so much rising vegetarianism, but meat eaters looking to either reduce consumption of meat for various reasons or try something different,” Mr Hunt said.
The alternative protein industry is strongest in Europe and is predicted to grow 8 per cent annually over the next five years, taking up a third of all growth in the market.
Mr Hunt said while the Australian market might be a bit slower to pick up the craze, it was important the local meat industry learnt from overseas markets.
“These trends have a habit of finding their way into our markets and it would be a waste not to learn from their lessons.”
Mr Hunt said marketing was key to keeping the meat industry competitive and that producers needed to recognise the drivers behind the changes in consumer behaviour.
“It’s important to recognise what is driving these substitutes and tap into that, so we can participate in the same trends that these new products are looking to capitalise on.”
Meat name will be defended
This year Australian dairy farmers have been lobbying to stop alternatives like almond and soy from using the word ‘milk’ on their products.
Mr Hunt believes a similar fight is brewing over meat-related words.
“We can see that starting already and it revolves not just around the use of the term ‘meat’.”
Mr Hunt said that included whether packaging could include terms such as ‘meaty’ or feature pictures of animals.
“I think that that is a fair battle to fight and a worthwhile front defence,” Mr Hunt said.
As these alternative industries grow in Australia, local producers are lapping up the opportunities.
Demand is driven consumers
General manager of Life Health Foods, Dean Epps said debates about the naming of such products were just side issues.
Mr Epps said the company had seen consistent upward demand for their plant-based products.
“We are experiencing double digit year on year growth and that has been running for the last three years with no sign of letting up,” Mr Epps said.
Demand is being fuelled by consumers motivated by the health, environmental and welfare benefits of such products.
A peak body for the meat industry said it was countering the move away from meat by investing in and promoting sustainability and welfare.
Meat industry stepping up
CEO of the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) Patrick Hutchinson said meeting consumer expectations about how meat was grown and processed was crucial to the continued success of the industry.
“What people want to be doing is ensuring that whatever they are consuming is something that is going to be nutritious for them, is ethically treated and is also sustainable into the long-term future.
“And that is what the Australian red meat and pork industry is providing.”
Mr Hutchinson said no matter how much the meat industry changes, there would always be people who chose not to eat meat.
“And that is their choice and we are all for everyone having a choice,” he said.