Plant-based foods are booming, but we need sustainable meat, too.

The statistics on plant-based proteins are eye opening: Beyond Meat’s shares have more than tripled in value since its IPO in May, Impossible Foods can now be found in about 10,000 restaurants, and the market for meat substitutes is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2023. In fact, dollar sales of plant-based products are growing double digits across the country, and you can now find meat alternatives in Burger King, White Castle and Carl’s Jr, among other chains.

For the vast majority of consumers, increasing plant-based protein consumption is not about the rejection of traditional animal protein. Instead, consumers want options that address their health and animal welfare concerns, and a recent survey found that “almost one-third of US consumers chose the environment as one of their top three reasons for eating more plant-based foods.”

Recent research from NYU and IRI® finds that sustainability-marketed products are responsible for more than half of the growth in consumer packaged goods (CPGs) from 2013-2018, while representing 16.6% of the CPG market in dollar sales in 2018.

Ame Igharo, Project Manager, EDF+Business

Consumer demand for sustainably grown food is clearly on the rise, but at the same time, so is the demand for meat. Per the USDA, per capita meat consumption in 2018 was 219.5 pounds – one of the highest levels since they began tracking US consumption in 1960 – and consumption is expected to reach its highest levels ever in 2020. Poultry, which consumers view as one of the healthiest and most sustainable meats is at an all-time consumption high and the US market for grass-fed beef grew 100% a year from 2013 to 2017.

That means that for protein companies, many of which have set greenhouse gas reduction targets, they’ll need to look beyond plant-based proteins to meet their goals – and consumer demand. They’ll need to place a heavy focus on working with farmers to continue the progress they are making to accelerate sustainability in the supply chain. This includes increasing efficiency, focusing on animal feed, and improving manure management.

Tyson Foods, for example, is partnering with EDF on its Land Stewardship initiative to help farmers in its supply chain to continuously improve by investing in the initiative and scaling agricultural practices that are good for the environment and profitable for farmers.

Smithfield Foods also partnered with EDF to support grain farmers in its supply chain adopt sustainable practices like cover crops, and lower-impact crops such as winter wheat. Smithfield was able to engage 80 percent of its directly sourced grain supply, or 560,000 acres, in conservation practices in 2018. These efforts generated shared value for the company, farmers, and the environment.

Other food companies can help meet the skyrocketing consumer demand for sustainable food by collaborating with partners. Doing so can help any animal agriculture company make the sustainability transition. Resources such as EDF’s Supply Chain Solutions Center provide tools to get companies started, including The Poultry Sustainability Guide, and a recently released dairy report that highlights the ROI – both financial and environmental – from investing in conservation on dairy farms.

By: Ame Igharo

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