- Hormel, Kellogg’s, and Kroger are among the large companies now planning to offer “fake meat” products at grocery stores.
- Experts say the trend toward plant-based meats coincides with consumers’ desires to eat less meat.
- However, experts urge consumers to closely check package labels as a product isn’t necessarily healthy just because it’s described as plant-based.
In grocery stores and fast-food outlets around the United States, a revolution is taking place.
Alternatives to meat may not be new, but recent improvements to the products, such as fake meats that really “bleed” and fake chicken that tastes like the real thing, have led to a surge in popularity of faux meats.
Fake meats are big business with companies such as Burger King, KFC, and Dunkin’ all adding the products to their menus. But they’re no longer alone.
Now, traditional food companies such as Kellogg’s, Tyson, and Kroger are also jumping on the fake meat bandwagon.
“Plant-based meat products have become a hot item in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. With the growing interest in flexitarianism, or incorporating more vegetarian options into their diet, this trend doesn’t surprise me,” Lauri Wright, PhD, an assistant professor in public health at the University of South Florida, told Healthline.
“I view increased access to more plant-based food options as very positive both for our health and the health of the environment,” she said. “Alternative meat products have been around for years. What is different now is the growing variety of products and improved taste, which I think means this is a trend that is here to stay.”
The rise of alternative proteins into the mainstream diet has seen big name outlets partner with companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Burgers to make faux meats easily accessible for consumers.
Consumers can now buy Impossible Foods and Beyond Burgers in grocery stores as well as at fast-food restaurants.
Traditional competitors are taking note.
Tyson Foods, well known for its chicken products, has introduced a new range of plant-based nuggets. Earlier this month, it also announced a new venture to create plant-based shellfish. The company hopes to create a plant-based alternative to shrimp by 2020.
This fall, Kroger will be launching its own line of plant-based meats to appear alongside regular meats in stores.
Morningstar Farms, owned by Kellogg’s, is also introducing a range of realistic plant-based meats under the name “Incogmeato.”
Last week, Hormel Foods, famous for its Spam products, introduced a line of meat substitutes called Happy Little Plants.
The new products are a move Dana Hunnes, PhD, a senior dietitian at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, says will appeal to a growing number of people interested in plant-based diets.
“People want their cake and get to eat it, too,” she told Healthline. “People want to eat meat but also want to eat it in a healthier/better-for-the-planet sort of way. These new fake meats are a perfect mixture of meaty flavor, meaty texture, and are good for the Earth.”
“I think with younger generations going on the bandwagon of eating more plant-based and trying to protect the environment, as climate change is becoming ever more serious, these fake meats are the opportunity people have been looking for to still eat ‘meat’ without doing all the damage,” Hunnes added.
Wright says that easily accessible fake meats may also decrease the amount of meat Americans are eating.
“The typical American diet is still primarily ‘meat and potatoes’ based. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consumed over 200 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018. That translates into 10 ounces per day, which is twice the amount recommended by health agencies. Increased access to plant-based meats could help decrease the intake of meat while increasing vegetable consumption,” she said.
Some have raised concerns over the healthiness of fake meats.
The chief executive officer of Whole Foods says he won’t endorse the products, citing the fact they’re often highly processed.
It’s a claim many of the experts who spoke with Healthline say is reasonable to keep in mind.
“Plant-based isn’t always equivalent to healthy and I think that plant-based meats may be wearing a ‘health halo,'” Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, told Healthline. “If a consumer doesn’t read the nutrition facts label or ingredient list, these plant-based meats may be misleadingly healthier than they actually are. It is important to remember that just because a food is plant-based doesn’t mean it is healthy or healthier than its meat counterpart.”
“Consumers should look for products that use more whole ingredients like beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables compared to the more ultra-processed ingredients,” she said.
“Overall, the less-processed forms of plant-based meat alternatives are ideal. Consumers should also compare sodium when choosing plant-based meats. In a chart comparing plant-based burgers to a beef burger, there was almost five times more sodium in the plant-based option versus the beef,” she added.
Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees. She says there are many ways people can incorporate healthy meat-free options in their own kitchen.
“Fake meats are no substitute for minimally processed, whole, plant foods,” she told Healthline. “Plant proteins like beans, lentils, and soy including tofu and tempeh promote health and prevent chronic disease… it’s easy to find recipes that use these foods or foods like eggplant, jackfruit, mushrooms, potatoes, cauliflower, and quinoa to replace meat in dishes from tacos to burgers, lasagna to chili. Your imagination is your only limitation.”
But as more and more people introduce meat-free Monday and more plant-based options to their diets, she says it makes sense for companies to embrace changing attitudes toward meat.
“As the world’s population explodes, the food supply will be stressed. Large food companies and food distributors play an integral role in the adaptations that will need to be made. It’s simply good business sense to offer food options that will be key in this transition. Americans’ appetite are changing — they’re demanding and enjoying products made from plants that resemble foods, like meat, that are familiar to them,” she said.