Are our attitudes to meat changing?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Does lab meat answer our changing attitudes to animal protein?
Does lab meat answer our changing attitudes to animal protein?

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As we see a shift towards ‘clean’, ‘cultured’ and ‘lab-grown’ meat, what does this mean for the popularity of traditional meat consumption? Has the new meat revolution really taken off? And is it the end of meat as we know it today? We take a look with Tom Rees, industry manager at Euromonitor International.

With sustainability and health credibility strongly encouraging consumers to question their eating habits, our tastes and consumption of meat are evolving.

The awareness and understanding surrounding our impact on the state of the planet is increasing; raising difficult questions on the way we live our lives and the food we choose to buy and eat. As a result, specific substitutes are gaining traction, market research provider Euromonitor International revealed.

“Ultimately, more and more people are rejecting meat, seeking plant-based diets and meat alternatives,”​ Tom Rees, Industry Manager at Euromonitor International.

What’s happening with traditional meat?

Clean, cultured and lab-grown meat are just some of the names popping up in the meat market. It refers to real meat produced through through in vitro cultivation of meat cells, producing meat with no need to slaughter the animal. 

So where does this leave traditional meat? Are we set to — or are we already seeing — a slow or steep decline in its consumption?

In fact, no. Around the world, consumption of meat grew between 2013 and 2018, and is expected to continue to do so through 2018-2023, Euromonitor International highlighted. Increasing population sizes and rising disposable income levels are successfully contributing to growing meat demand.

Of the total amount of meat eaten around the globe, 90% comes from fresh meat, with consumers opting for poultry and pork as their preferred varieties. However, these two specific types of meat do not follow the same trends. While poultry sees relatively high consistency in terms of its consumption across multiple markets; pork is favoured in concentrated markets, such as France and Germany.

Vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian?

Increasing prosperity and growing populations mean developing countries throughout Africa are contributing to the increase in meat sales.

By contrast, more mature markets in Europe are likely to see consumers opting for less or no meat in their diets — moving to flexitarianism, vegetarianism and veganism. Declining average per capita meat consumption in these developed markets could therefore be on the cards. 

One driver prompting consumers to reduce or abandon meat is sustainability. Increasing consumer concerns about the planet are causing many consumers to opt for a flexitarian approach to meat in western Europe; whereby they reduce the amount they eat to improve the state of the planet.

While current statistics suggest that approximately a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK are vegan or vegetarian, Euromonitor International stated that reducing meat intake is, at present, considered more favourable than removing it from diets completely.

Clean meat — produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells without the need to kill animals — or cultured meat as it is also known, may well be the answer for many existing meat eaters who want to reduce their consumption of conventional meat.

However, the segment needs to navigate the regulatory arena, address pricing concerns and explore the environmental impact to stand up as a transparent, safe and responsible alternative to traditional meat.

Supporters of clean meat claim it will lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce both the use of water and land by more than 95%, as well as avoid the need for antibiotics and hormones to seep into the food.

Innovation, inspiration and influence

The food industry is at the point where “major food companies such as McDonald’s are looking into meat alternatives, and many companies are investing in lab-grown meat” ​and meat analogues. This is coupled with new start-ups entering the scene and major meat companies investing in them.

Tyson recently pulled out of its investment in Beyond Meat because it intends to develop its own alternatives, Rees noted as a recent example. “And Beyond Meat’s IPO was very successful.”

Lab-grown meat is a relatively new area and, although “the costs of producing lab-grown meat have been limiting, this is changing as more companies enter the market”.​ Its popularity means that “already, lab-grown meat is becoming more affordable and accessible”​ to both businesses and consumers.

“However we’re still some way off prices being comparable, and a big question is whether consumers will be prepared to eat lab-based meat – health trends in food are centring around turning to natural, non-processed foods, and lab meats (and indeed, meat alternatives) can be thought of very negatively in this context,”​ Rees explained.

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