Plant-based meat

Crowing gives way to concern in US plant-based meat market

US plant-based meat manufacturers are having to think again in the face of slowing demand. Dean Best reports.

The underwhelming news in the US market for plant-based meat market continues, puncturing the bullishness that has pervaded the category. 

Already this year, signs of slowing demand prompted some manufacturers to review their position in the sector (see Maple Leaf’s decision to change its investment strategy) and others to downgrade their expectations (Beyond Meat being a well-known case in point). Last month, a smaller firm in Canada that does business in the US – The Very Good Food Company – effectively put itself on the market

And, in recent weeks, the bad news has continued. JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processors, added to the question marks surrounding the category’s prospects in the US. The Brazil-based meat behemoth is ditching its US plant-based meat operation a little more than two years after launching the unit. 

In a brief statement, JBS USA said: “We continue to believe in the potential of plant-based options for consumers and remain committed to the alternative-protein market.” 

But the company’s attention now seems set on markets outside the US, including in Europe, where it bought Dutch alt-meat group Vivera last year

Elsewhere, two domestic suppliers made job cuts. Impossible Foods – a company that saw founder Pat Brown say earlier this year a meat-free world was “totally doable”sought to remain sanguine, insisting the “organisational changes” would “strengthen” the business, while underlining how it was recruiting in other areas. 

Meanwhile, earlier this month, for the second time in a matter of weeks, Beyond Meat announced jobs would go, citing “current economic conditions” for the lay-offs. The Beyond Burger maker also cut its sales forecast for the second time in its fiscal year. 

Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown emphasised the work the company was undertaking to improve its prospects – and why he still believes the group can prosper in the longer term. 

“We continue to make strong progress against the levers of mainstream adoption – taste, health and price – and are steadfastly advancing key strategic partnerships,” he said. “The global climate crisis underway dictates greater, not less, urgency in the adoption of all solutions, of which ours is among the most immediate and powerful.” 

Of course, some competing in the US plant-based meat market may well simply shrug at the exit of JBS. Some more dogmatic players may celebrate the departure of one of the world’s largest meat groups from the alt-meat category.  

There may be some who describe the job cuts at Impossible Foods as typical of a new boss looking to ensure they have the right resources in the right roles. 

Beyond Meat has attracted negative headlines throughout the year – in part due to its standing as a publicly-listed business, though not always – but advocates for plant-based meat will agree with the company’s longer-term belief in the market. 

But, for all of that, there’s no denying JBS leaving the stage is yet more evidence predictions the US plant-based meat category would enjoy rapid growth were overblown. And, while Impossible says its sales are rising, its job cuts (and those at Beyond Meat) are yet more signs companies are having to reassess their operations amid weaker demand than had been projected. 

There are some macro consumer concerns that can help the US plant-based meat category, especially anxiety about the climate crisis. Some businesses will thrive – but others will fail and it’s clear now much of the talk in recent years about the market was bombastic.