The future is plant-based according to Jack Cowin, the billionaire founder of the burger chain Hungry Jack’s, the company that has launched the Rebel Whopper, a plant-based alternative to its iconic beef burger.
Vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only ones avoiding meat, according to Jack Cowin, a man who made his fortune selling burgers and who is now a firm believer in meat alternatives. “The meat industry is a huge industry but plant-based is the future as far as new product development goes,” Cowin, the owner of the Hungry Jack’s burger chain, says.
The billionaire holds a 24 per cent stake in plant-based meat alternative V2Foods,which is used in Hungry Jack’s Rebel Whopper burgers and stocked across Australia in Woolworths and Coles supermarkets.
Cowin says he’s happy with sales of plant-based burgers across Hungry Jack’s stores and he believes they will continue to grow driven by customers who are not vegetarian nor vegan but want to reduce their meat consumption for environmental or health reasons.
“We sell a lot more animal-based meat than we do plant-based meat,” he says. “But there’s also a group of meat-eating people that are interested in the health aspects and they’re interested in the environmental aspects and the millennial side of the population as you know, anything that is kind of planet-friendly they like. So there’s a definite market there and we’ve been able to attract new business.”
Hungry Jack’s isn’t the only fast-food company getting on board meat alternatives with McDonald’s announcing it will introduce a line of plant-based meat alternatives called ‘McPlant’ in 2021 and local chains Hunky Dory, Pie Face, Mad Mex, Fergusson Plarre and 7-Eleven all stocking meat alternative products.
Globally plant-based meat is attracting significant investment and now boasts cashed-up players like the $US10 billion ($13 billion) listed plant-based meat company Beyond Meat. Meanwhile, its keenest competitor Impossible Foods is also gearing up for an initial public offering in the new year to cash in on the trend. Established food giants like Nestle and Unilever are also keen to dive deeper into the sector and the COVID-19 pandemic has ended up adding more fuel to the fire. With abattoirs and meatworks across the US closing down to contain the pandemic, the resultant meat shortage forced many consumers to switch their attention to plant-based meat.
The wider acceptance of the products looks set to accelerate investor activity in the local meat alternative market that a 2019 report from think tank Food Frontier and consultancy Deloitte says could generate up to $150 million in sales. The report adds that on a “moderate” growth trajectory it would be worth almost $3 billion by 2030. Food Frontier says the sector has been “growing exponentially” since the report was published with 29 Australian companies producing meat alternative products and over 200 meat alternatives on the shelves across Australia.
One of these new entrants is Australian startup Fable Foods, which launched its mushroom-based meat alternative last year and is now stocked across 150 cafes and restaurants and 1,500 retail stores including Coles supermarkets. Fable co-founder Michael Fox says there are “significant tailwinds” boosting the prospects of the meat alternative sector. “Talking to people in the food industry who have been in it for a long time, this is very much a once in a generation sort of opportunity,” he says. “It’s exciting for the future of the planet and it’s an exciting sector to be running a business.”
Fox believes we are at the cusp of a dramatic shift in consumption from products derived by animals to plant-based meat, with the transition to fully take hold within the next couple of decades. “For the most part people buy meat because they love the taste of it and it’s reasonably priced,” he says. “So our goal at Fable and the goal of other meat alternative companies is to produce products that have a better taste and texture than meat and are cheaper than animal meat. And if we can do that, then there is really no reason for people to eat meat from animals anymore.”
Out of the labs and onto our plates
Plant substitutes are only one part of the trend, the next frontier is cultured meat grown in laboratories with Singapore in December becoming the first country in the world to approve cultured meat for commercial sale.
Melbourne-based investment manager Kilara Capital, backed by the family office from the Smorgon and Lieberman families, invested in a $US55 million ($71.3 million) fundraising for Dutch-based cultured meat company Mosa Meat in September. Mosa Meat’s product is developed from a biopsy taken from an animal and these cells are grown to produce small strands of the same cell until the cultured meat is “genetically indistinguishable”
Kilara Capital managing director Ben Krasnostein is a member of Melbourne’s Smorgon family, whose first venture in 1927 was Smorgon’s Meat Shop, and he reckons there’s good money to be made out of cultured meat. “We’re not out there saying get rid of the cows,” he says. “We’re just saying, let’s stop cows becoming the new coal, let’s invest in technologies and methods to just make the traditional meat business more sustainable and regenerative rather than extractive”.
The environmental impact of a switch to lab-grown meat could be significant, with a 2011 Oxford study estimating cultured meat production could involve up to 95 per cent fewer global greenhouse gas emissions, 98 per cent less land use and up to half as much energy as traditional meat production.
Krasnostein says for cultured meat to become a mainstream product it’s going to need a lot of money, science and time to get the costs down, however, he thinks it will have broader appeal than plant-based meats. “[Plant-based meat] is an alternative to it, but it’s not meat no matter how good it is, and some of it is pretty good, it’s not the same, and it’s going to continue to get closer but there’s something that is irreplaceable about that experience of eating meat,” he says.
Krasnostein also adds that the world just doesn’t have the resources to continue eating meat at the rate it does now and the argument that consumers don’t want to eat meat produced in a factory doesn’t hold. “Do you eat meat pies?” he asks. “Do you eat hot dogs at the footy? That notion of producing something like that in a factory, the ship has sailed, we already produce meat in a factory we just don’t necessarily need to grow it in a factory.”
Original source: https://www.smh.com.au/business