While advances in plant-based proteins are gaining traction, meat protein's dominant position remains safe.

Meat protein dominates

Protein remains the on-trend ingredient in food and beverage product development, but the focus during the past few years has been on such alternatives as plant proteins. While advances in plant-based proteins are gaining traction, meat protein’s dominant position remains safe.

A report published in June by the market research company Packaged Facts, Rockville, Maryland, showed total retail sales of meat, poultry and meat substitutes are expected to reach nearly $100 billion in 2021. Red meat will dominate dollar sales due to its higher price point, though it trails poultry in per-capita consumption volume.

Packaged Facts estimated meat substitutes, which include plant proteins, will account for less than $2 billion of the projected total.

“Meat continues to evolve and be re-evaluated by consumers in the wake of years of consciousness-raising on several topics, including humane animal treatment, meat processing and nutrition,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

In the years ahead, consumers may be more mindful of meat intake, whether for economic, dietary or ecological reasons, Packaged Facts said. Specialty products such as grass-fed or local beef, heritage poultry and wild boar may appeal to those seeking sustainable options, while cost-conscious consumers may take cues from other cultures in preparing less-expensive cuts like brisket.

Previously underused cuts of meat, such as pork shoulder, are gaining popularity at retail and in food service. Retail sales of poultry, associated with lower costs and a healthier profile, are projected to rise over the next five years, Packaged Facts said.

Previously underused cuts of meat, such as pork shoulder, are gaining popularity at retail and in food service.
“Concerns over the health impacts of red meats have caused an ongoing shift in consumption of poultry, while also reinvigorating the market for pork,” the Packaged Facts report said. “Yet the market for beef still shows signs of life, with consumers increasingly trading quantity for quality.”

Another trend driving the market for meat and poultry products is the need for convenient, portable snacks, which has given rise to such products as meat jerky, meat snack bars and meat sticks, as well as pork rinds and cracklings.

The firm Technavio, London, forecasts that the global market for meat snacks will grow from $6.27 billion in 2016 to $9.47 billion by 2021. A report published by the company attributed the growth to consumers’ “rising awareness of healthy, low calorie, and high protein foods, and a healthy lifestyle.” Among meat snack varieties, jerkies are preferred among US consumers and represent about 50 percent of the global meat snack sales. In the jerky category, beef-based products account for 80 percent of the market.

The global market for meat snacks is forecast to grow from 46.27 billion in 2016 to $9.47 billion by 2021.
Evolving consumer preferences have driven the largest meat and poultry processors to reconfigure production practices and marketing, the Packaged Facts report said. Many of the industry leaders have adopted new animal welfare policies or committed to eliminating antibiotics or growth hormones from the supply chain. They also are starting to produce organic offerings.

In 2016, chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Greeley, Colorado, announced plans to convert one of its plants to certified organic chicken production. Once fully scaled up, company executives estimated it would account for approximately 20 percent of the organic chicken production in the United States. Other chicken companies, including Perdue Farms and Foster Farms, are selling organic chicken as well.

Finally, while meat protein remains dominant, companies are considering the potential of plant-based proteins. Tyson Foods in 2016 purchased a small stake in Beyond Meat, a manufacturer of meat-free burgers, strips, crumbles and single-serve meals, and Maple Leaf Foods agreed to acquire plant-based protein brand Lightlife Foods.