The Last ‘Meat’ Standing

Posted February 18, 2020 by Keith Seiz

When the dust settles from the current new product development mania around plant-based “meats,” which products will survive and which will join New Coke and the McDLT in the halls of failed product launches? Seems like a challenging question, but I think the answer is pretty simple to come by, and it focuses on three questions.

These three questions are at the heart of most new product launches, but in the alternative-meat space, I feel they are even more important to consider. The flurry of new product development in this space is massive, and consumers are curious enough about the category to make most new products successful out of the gate.

I feel this initial success is going to prove misleading for some manufacturers. Consumer curiosity is driving sales now, but is this curiosity creating converts? The number of non-meat eaters is growing, but not at a fast enough clip to sustain all of the companies entering the space.

There will be a shakeout, and it will lead to some casualties from brands that came to market white hot, then fizzled due to a lack of repeat purchases. Who will be left standing? The companies that have positive answers to each of these questions.

How does the product taste?

Taste is a given indicator of product success across any food and beverage category, but I think it’s a more nuanced attribute in the meat-free space. Yes, there will be product winners in the space that thrive simply because they taste just like meat.

However, I also feel there will be winners in the space that don’t try to mimic the taste and texture of meat exactly, but instead provide consumers an exciting alternative to meat. Something to fill the void in a sandwich or as a pizza topping. Something that tastes great, provides texture and brings excitement.

I would bet on more of the latter companies, as they are truly creating new categories and eating experiences, not just mimicking an existing product.

Regardless of if a product is mimicking meat or replacing it, the repeat buying factor is the key metric to judge success. I’ve bought probably 30 different types of meat alternative products. I keep buying three.

Who is your target customer?

I don’t think it’s vegetarians or vegans. Sure, they are important, but true growth in the category that will sustain a thriving marketplace will require meat-free manufacturers to siphon off non-vegetarian/vegan consumers. How?

I’m dubious of health claims because I think there is enough science and lobbyist dollars on both sides to keep the health question in doubt for most casual consumers.

Instead, I’d go all-in on the horrors of factory farming. Even the most ardent carnivores likely will agree that factory farming is bad for animals, humans and the environment. A compelling case must be made that consuming meat-free alternatives will help lessen our reliance on factory farming.

What’s in the product?

The mania surrounding plant-based foods has caused this question to hide in the background a bit while everyone tries to create the next big product that tastes just like meat. However, it will surface once the dust settles.

We’ve seen it with other categories: excitement about new product launches then a realization of what’s actually in the product, followed by alternative product launches that have the same attributes but cleaner labels.

I think it’s going to happen in the meat-free space. There are a lot of extensive ingredient listings, hard-to-pronounce additives and soy (I said it) in the first generation of meat-free products. I think the second generation will stress cleaner, more familiar ingredient listings that will win consumers in the long run.

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