Plant based meat alternatives continue their rise

Plant-based meat is growing in market share as alternative lifestylers find more retail outlets prepared to stock expanding product lines

Supermarket shelves are lined with nearly 300 packaged plant-based meat alternative product lines with an increase from fewer than five brands made by Australian/NZ businesses in 2017 to more than 30 today

The volume and types of plant-based meats in Australia have developed quickly over the past three years with resultant significant changes in the consumers’ view of plant-based meat alternatives.

What’s clear is that the new food category that emerged from one or two early niche players has now become a multitude of start-ups that have created a plant-based meat industry alternative that’s here to stay.

In major retail in Australia, the plant-based meat category has increased from fewer than five brands made by Australian/NZ businesses in 2017, to more than 30 today.

In addition, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of products on shelves over the last three years alone, from less than 90 to now stand at nearly 300 branded packages.

A review of data from the independent alternative protein industry reveals the types of products that consumers are ethically seeking are shifting as well.

Consumers are looking for convenience, a situation that has seen a significant increase in the supply of formats like schnitzels and nuggets, through to mince and meatballs, and deli slices, snacking and finger foods.

Plant-based meat alternative producers are growing in number with protein supply from more sustainable and nutritious options that consumers are beginning to embrace – Image: Food Frontier

Consumer interest in products that can be incorporated into a variety of dishes has seen more versatile, functional formats hit shelves, like beef-style strips and chunks, and whole cut style.

And this is where further growth is expected to spiral as there are still fewer than 10 product brands represented in each of these market categories. Expect many more brands to follow.

These findings have been verified through the results of recent audits of major supermarkets in Melbourne and Sydney.

CEO of Food Frontier, Dr Simon Eassom, points out that the findings show the Australian plant-based meat market is still evolving and maturing, “We know that the early adopters of plant-based meats here and around the world are flexitarians.

“They are the cohort, used to centre-of-plate proteins or protein-based dishes, that are now looking for healthier alternatives to those conventional protein sources and for products that mimic what they’re used to buying.

“When plant-based options first appeared on our shelves in Australia, about six years ago, they were mostly in the form of utility foods: sausages and burgers. There were probably too many manufacturers all providing the same style of product and, rightly so, customers have voted with their taste-buds and their wallets.

“This category has seen zero increase and some contraction in the number of manufacturers, with the lion’s share of the market now dominated by a few strong brands. The data gathered by Food Frontier indicates that other formats that can be incorporated into a much wider range of dishes are gaining favour and manufacturers are responding accordingly.”

Food Frontier is the independent think tank on alternative proteins in Australia and New Zealand with funds derived from grants and donations has released a report on plant-based meat alternatives – Image: Food Frontier

Overall, the number of plant-based meat products available in Australia peaked at about 350 in early 2023 and, as expected in new food categories, there has since been consolidation, Dr Simon Eassom continues, “We expect the category to continue to evolve and we wouldn’t be surprised to see further changes by way of company integration, and product formulations.

“This is a food industry that’s continuing to innovate and adapt to consumer tastes and budgets, plus the availability of more sophisticated ingredients will help manufacturers improve products to meet expectations around taste and texture as well as price,” Dr Simon Eassom concluded.

Australian and New Zealand brands now make up two-thirds of products in major retail in our local market, up from less than half in 2019, with international brands that trail-blazed plant-based meats still holding their own: brands such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Fry Family Food.

Ernst & Young has forecast the global plant-based meat market to reach at least US$57 billion by 2030. Additionally, CSIRO has estimated that the plant-based products category in Australia will reach $6 billion by 2030.

Plant-based start-ups

There are 26 plant-based meat manufacturers in Australia and New Zealand ranging from small start-ups to family-run meat and butchery businesses, to small medium enterprises and large players. Eleven are based in NSW; six in Victoria; three in Queensland; five in New Zealand and one in South Australia. For a list of current brands see more on the map below.