[sort of a repost because my last post about this got no response]

Sales of plant-based meats declined significantly in 2022, likely due to inflation and health concerns. Alternative proteins cost 43% more on average than real meat, and many consumers view them as a luxury good.[1] I view this as a major setback for the development of alt proteins, and it makes me worried about their potential to replace factory farming in the medium and long term.

However, there are reasons to still be optimistic - the technology is improving, and another 20+ years of R&D (government, private, and philanthropically funded) could make alt proteins cost-competitive with conventional animal products. Perhaps donors should "stay the course" - as an analogy, if you're investing for the long term, you shouldn't pull your money out of the stock market just because your portfolio's value drops 20% in one year.

What are your thoughts?

  1. ^

    "Reducing the price of alternative proteins" (Good Food Institute, 2022)

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I haven't got a very well calibrated model, but I'm still fairly optimistic about alt proteins becoming increasingly commercially viable. I would update very little on 2022 being a fairly bad year for a few reasons:

  • I don't think the article's claim that 'sales of PBM declined significantly in 2022' is actually true. According to the lastest GFI plant-based meat report: "...global dollar sales of plant-based meat grew eight percent in 2022 to $6.1 billion, while sales by weight grew five percent." In Europe, sales grew by 6%, so it's really just the US. 
  • In the US, "estimated total plant-based meat dollar sales increased slightly by 2% while estimated pound (lb) sales decreased by 4%" (GFI, 2023), so a very marginal decline in demand. I think the narrative that the market collapsed in 2022 is more due to the more significant decline in home/ refrigerated purchasing of PBM, and perhaps because Beyond Meat had an awful year
  • Other metrics are looking okay:
    -  Total invested capital in alt protein is still comparable with other food sectors, with major increases in cultivated and fermented meat investment.
    - Government investment is growing and locked-in as part of multi-year programs in many countries
    - Many new production facilities are springing up, which should reduce prices, especially for fermented and cultivated products.
    - I think we've reached the turning point for national safety approvals for cultivated meat, and I expect more (such as China and Japan) in 2023-2024
    - There has been some pretty considerable investment in certain emerging markets (APAC and MENA
  • Even if it has been a bad year in some respects, it's been a bad year for everyone. Conventional meat sectors have also suffered in 2022- particularly in the UK and EU. And growing tech sectors have also slowed - quantum computing investment also flattened off from a rapid growth trajectory. 

So I wouldn't update too much on 2022's slowdown- it's a combination of macroeconomic factors, Russia-Ukraine, high interest rates and rising energy prices that have reduced investment, and inflation that's led to reduced consumption.

As for your question of whether alternative proteins will take off. I'm optimistic. I think we've entered a situation where:

  • Many conventional/ institutional food producers have bought into alt proteins, so there's less institutional resistance
  • Most governments are at least partly supporting the transition to alt proteins, especially import-dependent countries with food security issues like Israel, Singapore and the UEA 
  • Young people across a lot of the world are increasingly into alt proteins (especially milks), so the demographic shift will work in favour of alt proteins over the next decade

I feel that we have the right incentives and technology to produce super tasty, affordable alternatives for various consumer types, and when we get these products, the market should start to grow. 

The reasons I could be wrong might be: 

- We'll continue to lack those killer products at an affordable price. The market will be dominated by poor, low-cost products, giving alt protein a worse reputation among many normal consumer groups. 

- It's only ever going to be a niche market. Almost everyone actually prefers conventional meat, and most consumers are more resistant to change than we currently think. Cell-cultivated meat will be seen as the only viable alternative, and people will continue consuming conventional meat until cell-cultivated meat hits price parity.

Are the dollar sales figures inflation-adjusted?

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Jack_S
10mo
Good point. I believe all the dollar figures I cited aren't inflation-adjusted, which is probably the main  difference between sales by weight and sales by dollar. 

Amazing comment, stuff like this is the reason I joined the EA forum

Good question, I'm looking forward to the replies. 

I'm cautiously optimistic because I think the field has a lot of untapped potential but won't reach it without way more public support. For example:

  • "very little public sector funding has been dedicated to alt protein research and development (R&D) to date... [in 2020 the] public expenditure on clean energy R&D in 2020 was $27 billion, which is 490 times the public investment awarded to alt protein R&D [which was $55 million]." - GFI 2021 

The public R&D for alt proteins is a fraction of just the US's annual budget for conventional agriculture agriculture research (about $3.7 billion - Lewis Bollard 2021) and although that bums me out, it also provides an opportunity to turn the tide. 

So I think it's too soon to give up on alternative proteins, but way too soon to be complacent.

Welcome to the Forum, David! I'm a big fan of Volts.

3
David_R
10mo
Lol, thanks but I have nothing to do with Volts (I just share the same name with that guy :) edit: I changed my username to avoid confusion and besmirching his good name