Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
The broad spectrum of choices in today’s ‘meat’ aisle will continue to diversify as brands work to satisfy the appetites of ever-growing climate-conscious consumer market — and each product has its own benefits, challenges and impacts.
The average US meat counter is probably more diverse today than it has ever
There are, of course, the conventional cuts coming from the factory farming and
processing plants; but there’s also an expanding section devoted to organic and
less-processed meats, along with at least one part of the case hosting the
explosion of “alternative” options now available.
As with so many other categories, consumers now demand more transparency and
understanding about where their meat comes from, whether it’s plant- or
animal-based, whether the source is natural or
— all of which lead to a broader conversation about the overall environmental
impact of their choices.
According to a recent FoodPrint
report, 98 percent
of US consumers who buy alternative meat also purchase conventional cow products
(of any standard), so the impact of both has never been more relevant.
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is not an abstract concept anymore,” Gina Asoudegan, VP of Mission and
Innovation at Applegate, told Sustainable
Brands™. The Hormel-owned company, one of the larger regenerative
meat producers in the US, recently released the Do Good Dog — the first nationally available hot dog made with beef raised on verified regenerative US grasslands.
For a company of its size, Applegate’s commitment to regenerative practices is
impressive, and represents a broader approach to get higher-quality products
into mainstream grocery — especially those with a more rounded impact on the
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, beef production and
livestock are responsible for 14.5
percent of human-caused
emissions globally; regenerative ag
can reduce those emissions by more than half, but at the expense of
significantly more land required for grazing, herding, etc.
“What we’re looking at with regenerative agriculture is there’s a misperception
that all meat is bad and all meat is contributing to methane and climate
change,” says Christie Zimmerman, Product Standards Manager at organic
retail chain Natural Grocers.
As one of the larger grocery chains with potentially the toughest standards
across its entire product lineup, Natural Grocers is a big proponent of
science-driven approaches to what makes it onto the shelf — and that also
applies to alternative meat products.
“We’re also looking at a host of other ingredients, mainly what’s on our ‘Do
List,” Zimmerman says. “[For example,] a lot of the vegan products (such as
alternative meat) are not within the spirit of what a vegan lifestyle is.”
The conversation gets trickier when it comes to alternative options such as
and plant-based sources such as chickpea protein.
According to Taly Nechushtan, CEO of Israeli chickpea protein producer
InnovoPro, chickpeas emit 0.6-2 kg CO2 equivalent per
1 kg edible seeds — compared to 1 kg of beef protein produced — which results in
emissions of 25-99 kg CO2 eq per 1 kg meat (with variances based on actual
production areas). So, the climate impact of production of the chickpea protein
is roughly 40 times less per kg than beef protein.
“Furthermore, as a rotational crop, chickpeas return nitrogen to soil,
contributing to soil
— contrary to crops such as wheat or corn, which deplete nutrients from soil and
require heavy fertilization for cultivation,” Nechushtan adds.
For plant protein, there’s a mix of transparent, “clean” products and
additive-laden options available in stores right now — with the latter somewhat
defeating the purpose of choosing a plant-based option.
When looking at the largely unregulated alternative meat space, things aren’t as
Take the primary player of Impossible
Foods. Its “meat” is
soy-based, sourced from a GMO crop; then blended with a range of
of which hasn’t been used in food before, according to the FoodPrint report.
Impossible has emerged as the dominant player in the alternative-protein space —
not only in grocery, but nationally across big restaurants; and it’s led to
something of an acceptance that all alternative products are “healthier” than
their cow-based counterparts. It’s a give-and-take when it comes to their actual
nutritional value; but one detailed
found that Impossible meat has less protein and higher sodium content than the
Nearly every person we spoke with for this story noted there’s still a long way
to go in terms of education around what regenerative is, what alternative is
(and isn’t) and where things go in this crucial decade for the stability of the
“I would want the conversation to be further along,” says Mike Murray, CEO
of Teton Waters Ranch — producer of 100
percent grass-fed and -finished beef products. “We are enjoying increased
understanding and engagement from grocery buyers, but we want them to be more
willing to make that switch.”
Grocery buyers are the first step in the education chain as they dictate what
consumers ultimately get to choose from on the shelves.
Nechushtan expects traction to continue growing in the plant-based market, and
InnovoPro is positioning itself to respond.
“We are actively expanding our production capacity in North America and our
operational set-up in the US to better serve our customers, as we strongly
believe plant-based alternatives will continue to become the norm,” she notes.
Overall, it seems that neither meat category is really concerned about the
other. The regenerative producers are appealing to a consumer who likely cares
more than the average person about where and how their meat is produced, while
the plant-based companies are scaling to appeal to a fast-growing market
There seems to be a space for everyone, especially as both sides reckon with the
impact of their products over the next decade.
Published Jan 18, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.