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A dip in investor confidence and falling sales in its largest, fastest-growing market has delivered a shock to the plant-based meat industry. A period of consistent growth in the US culminated in a bumper 45 per cent increase in sales in 2020. But in the following year growth stalled.
Sales flattened out from the second quarter of 2021. And despite a slight rally in December, total revenues for the year were down 0.5 per cent. Then in January 2022, major California-based player, Beyond Meat, made headlines as one of the most shorted companies on the US stock market. The speculators bet on further falls in the plant meat sector.
Analysts and business leaders blamed declining growth on a variety of factors, including supply chain issues over pandemic lockdowns and a shift in consumer habits, as shoppers made fewer trips and had less opportunity to sample new products. The stall in demand could also be down to taste. The 2020 Good Food Institute survey of US consumers found that the biggest barrier to the uptake of plant-based meat was taste, with more than a quarter of respondents saying they didn't like it.
Price was the second biggest concern. Plant-based alternatives to meat can be up to 40 per cent more expensive than the real thing, according to consultancy firm Bain. Nutritionists have also cautioned consumers about sodium levels and the highly processed nature of some ingredients in plant-based fast food.
Big brands, like Burger King, McDonald's, and KFC, are backing plant-based meat options, rolling them out at slightly higher price points to their beef and chicken equivalents. Consumer uptake of plant-based fast food would be part of any speedy revival of sales growth. Before its stock market woes, Beyond Meat signed deals to supply takeaway giants, including McDonald's, which has launched its plant-based burger in the UK and parts of the US and Europe. But vast numbers of plant-based meals will have to sell across restaurants and supermarkets to restore confidence and to achieve the growth once predicted by some analysts from $4.6bn in 2018 to $85bn by 2030.