April 22, 2021

Consumption of meat and other animal products will decline in Europe and North America from 2035 onwards, according to a new report.

The study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) forecasts that the growth in the popularity of alternatives, sparked in part by concerns over environmental issues, will cause sales to tail off.

Last year, total sales of alternative proteins – those based on animal cells, plants or microorganisms – hit around 13 million tonnes, or just 2% of the amount of meat sold.

However, BCG said that they have become a “mainstream phenomenon” and it forecasts that, by 2035, sales will have increased more than seven-fold to 97 million tonnes, although they will still only make up about 11% of the total protein market.

According to the report, if technology moves ahead fast and if regulators make efforts to promote alternatives to traditional animal protein, spurred by the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example, the proportion could end up double this in 2035.

“By then [2035], Europe and North America will have reached the point of ‘peak meat,’ and consumption of animal proteins will begin to decline,” BCG said in a statement.

Globally, consumption of animal proteins of all kinds, including seafood, averaged 75kg per person last year, according to BCG, which works out at a total of 574 million tonnes.

While alternative proteins are set for significant growth in Europe and North America, BCG said average consumption was also increasing globally, driven by demand in developing nations.

For consumers to take up alternative proteins enthusiastically, the report said products would have to reach similar standards as animal proteins in taste, texture and price.

Regarding cost, the report said that alternative proteins were currently “not the bargain option” when compared to animal proteins.

“If large groups of consumers are to repeatedly purchase alternative proteins, the cost must match or undercut that of protein from animals farmed under nonorganic conditions,” BCG said in a statement.

BCG forecasts a varying timeline for when the alternatives will reach parity with animal protein. With plant-based options, it forecasts parity will be reached in 2023 for some products, such as burgers. When it comes to others, such as plant-based chicken pieces, parity will take longer.

Products derived from microorganisms are expected to reach parity by 2025, but with proteins derived from animal cells, where large technological improvements are required, parity will not be achieved before about 2032, the report said.

Aside from consumer preference, the level of investment into alternative proteins will have a significant effect on how quickly the sector grows.

Reaching 11% of the market in 2035 will require $11 billion of investment in plant-based technology to increase extrusion capacity, according to BCG, while up to $30 billion will need to be spent on bioreactors for microorganisms or animal cells.

In a statement released by BCG, Elizabeth Gutschenritter, managing director for alternative protein at the food conglomerate Cargill, said both large-scale manufacturing capacity and technological advancement was needed.

“The tech winners usually get the headlines, but the industry shouldn’t underestimate what it will take to scale manufacturing,” she said.

BCG said that increased consumption of alternatives to animal protein could result in significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Linking meat and dairy consumption to high carbon emissions has, however, proved controversial, especially among producers whose cattle are fed grass.

A report released last year by the UK National Farmers’ Union, titled, “The facts about British red meat and milk,” argued that there were many “myths” linking meat and dairy consumption to environmental harm.

“In Britain, most livestock is grazed in extensive grass-based systems. According to the [British] government’s Committee on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions from UK beef are about half the global average,” the report stated.

“Every type of food production has an environmental impact and livestock production is no different. However, it is misleading to say that by cutting out red meat and/or dairy from your diet you will drastically reduce your carbon footprint.”

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