A Fundamental Shift: The March to a Meatless Future is Now Unstoppable

High-tech plant-based 3D printed meat is the ‘gamechanger’ we’ve been waiting for.

After a run of good press and some bold predictions, the ‘alt-meat’ naysayers have begun an inevitable backlash. The Financial Times in January this year asked, “Has the Appetite for Plant-Based Meat Already Peaked?” The answer to that question – despite industry setbacks – is a solid ‘no.’ Regardless of current volatility, not betting on a meatless future is unwise. Think back to Tesla in 2008. How many predicted the company would reach a market capitalization of US$1 trillion just 13 years later? Plenty back then had significant doubts. Electric car controversies – involving Tesla and others – continue to this day, but those with ‘future-sight’ in ’08 saw the little roadster for what it was: a revolution. And, those who joined the revolution have seen their intuition pay. CNBC reports if you’d put US$1,000 into Tesla in November 2011, ten years later your money would be worth over $200,000. Likewise, those able to see the animal protein substitute industry as similarly transformative and revolutionary could end up earning much higher dividends because, while not everyone needs a car, everyone needs to eat.

Grandview Research, Inc estimates the global meat substitute market will be worth over US$230 billion by 2030. Plant-based meat is, no matter how you slice it, a healthier alternative to animal meat products. With rising health awareness fueled by the pandemic coupled with consumers inexorably moving towards non-animal sources of protein, vegan meat is set to conquer… everywhere. Most likely don’t think of China as a vegan paradise, and for good reason – it isn’t. China is by far the world’s largest consumer of animal meat, with Al Jazeera reporting that Chinese citizens are expected to consume more than 10 million tons of beef and veal, plus some 53 million tons of pork in 2022. Simultaneously, however, the vegan food market in China is forecast by Euro Monitor International to be worth close to US$12 billion by 2023, up some US$2 billion from 2018.

This might not seem like much of a hike, but for China experts, it’s a clear sign that even in the Middle Kingdom – with its highly pro-meat majority – change is afoot. China is not unaware of the environmental problems caused by its nearly fivefold increase in per capita meat consumption over the past 30 years; an increase estimated to contribute to nearly 20% of air pollution in the country. Beijing has committed to a target of being carbon neutral by 2060, and Chinese VCs and angel investors can see the writing on the wall. What’s needed is a product that satisfies seemingly contradictory requirements: more meat for an increasing number of newly prosperous people, and less meat to significantly reduce the harmful effects meat production has on the environment. This is where meat substitutes (or animal protein substitutes overall) come into play.

If something looks, smells, tastes, and even cooks like meat…is it not meat? We’re not talking about fancy ‘bleeding’ burgers or other offerings already on some fast-food chain menus but rather a new breed of alternative ‘new meat’ that melds the science of taste and texture with new high-tech – such as an AI-guided 3D printer. Startups across the world are taking different approaches to producing new meat, but one Israeli-based firm is already printing steak. And the reviews from celebrity chefs and tasters are unanimous: this is the meat of the future. A 3D printer prints in layers, and this means that when extruding plant-based meat substitutes, it can adjust different layers to mimic different tastes and textures – making the end product nothing like an old-school veggie burger. Long considered outside the achievement of science, a lamb chop that has the mouthfeel, taste, and appearance of the real deal is now a reality and when asked to describe these high-tech new meat substitutes a common word used is “gamechanger.”

It’s true that many plant-based alternatives have arguably underperformed, but don’t let the doubters deceive you, this isn’t some niche product but rather the beginning of a new era. Young industries suffer from extreme volatility but fundamental shifts are fundamental shifts. There is a so-called ‘hype cycle’ for emerging technologies and as explained in Vox Magazine, the cycle goes through an innovation trigger followed by a peak of inflated expectations, then there is a trough of disillusionment followed by a slope of enlightenment, and finally the plateau of productivity. It’s hard to say exactly where meat substitutes are in this cycle, but anyone with an eye on the future understands that they aren’t a flash in the pan. In 2032, there will be a whole lot of people who wished they had put that US$1,000 into an alternative meat investment as the world continues an unstoppable march to a meatless future.