As meat and dairy take hits, plant-based alternatives thrive

Source: By Bev Banks, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, May 25, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on the meat and dairy industries, plenty of grocery shoppers are turning to plant-based alternatives.

Supply chain disruptions related to the COVID-19 crisis have forced farmers to dump their milk and euthanize their livestock (Greenwire, May 4). Meanwhile, makers of plant-based products like Impossible Foods say sales are booming.

Impossible Foods, known for its meatless burger, expanded its product availability in more than 2,700 grocery stores over the past six weeks.

“You can definitely assume that sales are doing really well. Grocery store sales have gone up astronomically,” said Rachel Konrad, spokeswoman at Impossible Foods, citing “unprecedented demand” for the company’s products during the pandemic.

Impossible Foods is one of the most recognizable names in the industry, but it’s not alone in its recent success.

Sales tripled for All Y’alls Foods, which produces meatless jerky, according to Brett Christoffel, the Texas-based company’s founder and CEO.

Veestro, an online business that sells meals like red curry and a plant-based country-fried chicken, also saw higher-than-expected sales.

“Because people are home, they are ordering food so they don’t have to leave the house and expose themselves to the virus,” said Monica Klausner, who founded the company with her brother Mark Fachler seven years ago.

Milkadamia CEO Jim Richards has seen a surge in demand for the company’s macadamia nut milk products, available in about 13,000 stores in the United States.

“We saw a dramatic and immediate increase in demand for our products to the degree that we went through a short period of not being able to supply,” Richards said.

‘Paying more attention to food’

Plant-based companies have some advantages compared with the meat and dairy industry during the pandemic.

The plant-based industry’s smaller size, meat shortages and evolving consumer habits are among the reasons the industry is proving more resilient to the crisis, said William Madden, co-founder of Whole Brain Consulting, which provides operations and supply chain management services to the food industry.

“People have been paying more attention to food” over the last decade, Madden said, with concerns over the treatment of animals and factory farming motivating some consumers to buy plant-based versions.

Mike Woliansky, co-founder of North Carolina-based No Evil Foods, said the industry is helped by its shorter supply chain.

“We turn plants into protein, into meat, so the supply chain is shorter,” he said. “And so within that, there’s a lot less use of water [and] fossil fuels.”

The maker of plant-based chicken, pulled pork and sausage is also seeing record orders, Woliansky said.

Green benefits

Many of these companies have tied the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet to their brands (Climatewire, May 15).

A U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last August found that unsustainable agricultural practices could worsen climate change and threaten current food systems (Climatewire, Aug. 8, 2019).

Sustainability is a big focus for Impossible Foods. Citing a third-party analysis of the company, Konrad said it uses about 87% less water and 95% less land to make its burgers than a traditional beef burger would require, and it produces 89% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, a 2018 University of Oxford study in the journal Science found that even under the best conditions, making a liter of cow milk produces almost twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as making a liter of soy milk.

EPA estimated that 10% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from the U.S. agriculture industry in 2018. That includes methane produced by livestock as well as nitrous oxide, an even more potent contributor to climate change, caused by fertilizer use.

Hälsa Foods, which has its headquarters in Florida and production in New York, is trying to work together with traditional farmers. As milk consumption dropped in recent weeks, it partnered with a dairy farm in Hoosick, N.Y., to grow organic oats to make plant-based yogurt.

“We’re all part of the people who produce food for this planet, so we should collaborate,” Hälsa President and founder Helena Lumme said.