How often do you eat meat? For many people, the answer is not as often as before.

Two-thirds of US consumers say they are consuming less meat, with cost and health concerns being the primary reasons. Instead, 42% are turning to meatless alternatives.

Image: Statista

Whatever the motivation, the switch is having an impact. In 2018, the global meat substitutes market was valued at $4.6 billion. By 2023, it’s expected to reach $6.4 billion.

That’s still a long way behind the $90 billion global meat market, but the signs are that investors are willing to take a gamble on alternative forms of proteins. According to research by A.T. Kearney, investment in start-ups creating vegan meat replacements totalled $900 million between 2010 and 2018.

Impossible Foods has received millions of dollars of funding for its plant-based burgers.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Impossible Foods, known for its “bleeding” plant-based burgers, has received $806 million in funding from investors including Bill Gates, Google Ventures and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian - while Beyond Meat, which manufactures plant-based beef, chicken and pork substitutes, has secured $163.6 million in backing.

What has four legs, antennae and scope to feed the world?

While there is still significant resistance in the western world to eating insects, there have been attempts to develop marketable bug-based foods.

By 2050, the world’s population will hit 9.1 billion - and feeding all of those people in a sustainable way will be a significant challenge.

Crickets need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein. Exo, which has Michelin-starred chefs producing cricket energy bars, has already received $5.3 million in funding from investors.

All Things Bugs, another US start-up, raised $100,000 in initial seed funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an eco-friendly, ready-to-use therapeutic food product made from insects for children in famine-stricken countries.

Crickets are high in protein and need 12 times less feed than cattle.
Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

From a petri dish to your plate

At an earlier stage of development is “cultured” meat. Grown in a lab, it is identical to conventionally produced meat, without the same environmental impact. It is not yet commercially available, but cultured meat start-ups have already collectively received $50 million in funding.

Image: Good Food Institute, Impossible Foods; A.T. Kearney analysis

Selling the alternatives

According to a recent report from fund managers the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR), 16 major retailers expanded their alternative protein product range between 2018-2019.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

“Twenty-first century technology has the ability to create protein substitutes that meet the taste, texture and flavour of meat, fish and dairy, without using the actual animal,” says FAIRR founder Jeremy Coller.

The rollout of some of these products has met with overwhelming success: in the UK, fast food chain Greggs has seen a spike in its share price since introducing its popular vegan sausage roll in February 2019.

In the US, Burger King sales rose by more than a quarter during a trial addition of the Impossible Burger to the restaurant chain’s menu in the city of St Louis.

It’s looking like more of our future foods will be grown, not raised.