The other day, I was making my weekly trek through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world. Spending time in airports provides an interesting vantage point for observing people and cultures.
One of the benefits of the Sky Club is access to many newspapers. As an avid reader, I jump at the chance to glean perspectives and knowledge from various sources. A shocking headline in the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution really piqued my interest: “Impossible! Vegan patty battles to become the new all-American burger.”
In summary, the article stated that people were standing in line for up to three hours to get an order of these plant-based burgers. In the past 18 months, meat alternatives have been added to many menus throughout the growing city. The prices of these burgers often range from $12 to $19. The article further stated that there was a supply shortage of the vegan burger. Prior to the shortage, one restaurant brand was selling up to 500 patties per day. As a side note, recently while I was in the Charlotte airport, an announcement over the loudspeaker said Burger King had run out of Impossible burgers because of high demand!
It is interesting that the people consuming these burgers are health oriented. They are drawn to the claim that there is less land, water and energy required to produce these types of burgers. However, dietitians have found some of the plant-based burgers are similar to the fat and calorie content of the regular burger. Also, the sodium content of many vegan burgers can be high, and the protein source is highly processed.
Two years ago, there was rumbling about some of these products. With Bill Gates and venture capital firms providing funds and innovation to the marketplace, plant-based meat alternatives could be a challenge to the traditional sources of meat.
At the international food conference in Las Vegas, I discovered that of the $89 billion meat business, plant-based burgers make up about $1 billion. Cultured beef (“lab grown”) is fast approaching $500 million.
The real question is whether these plant-based burgers are a trend or a fad? With the younger generations seeking new experiences, the beef, poultry, pork and dairy industries need to up their game plan. This generation of consumers wants transparency in where the product was initiated. Second, they want customization and personalization, which are extremely important. While younger generations of consumers will buy products that are commodity-based, about 75 percent of consumers place the most value on the experience associated with the product.
This alternative meat fad could quickly change to a trend, not only in America but worldwide. As a futurist, I believe that with the proper positioning of our livestock industries, many consumers will return to the traditional sources, but they must have a compelling reason to do so..
Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA, and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications.