While Americans tread into the market of Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger, and other planted-based meat alternatives, millions of consumers around the planet are trying such products, too.

So when the U.S. Meat Export Federation met recently in Tucson, Ariz., it called in its international scouts to report on how consumers abroad are receiving the emerging products.

Jihae Yang, USMEF’s South Korean director, says the Beyond Burger was marketed this year in South Korea “with a lot of media attention,” but such products “are not working in the Korean market.” 

Yang explains Korean incomes did not rise enough for meat to be common in diets until the 1980s, making Koreans and their meat a sort of new marriage. Diets there are closely bound to meat and soy substitutes essential to daily meals.

So much so, she says, that “Korea is a difficult country for foreigners to travel if they are looking for a vegetarian menu. Every single food has meat ingredients, and we don’t have a vegetarian menu in regular restaurants.”

In general, new meat alternatives are but “a curiosity,” in Korea, she says. While shoppers can now afford meat there, a growing number are opting for meat substitutes owing to “a religious reason, or animal welfare, or environmental concern or sustainability issue.” But such trends “are in the initial stage,” she says.

She found the retail price of the Beyond Burgers were “3.5 times more expensive than the price of a (U.S. beef burger) right now,” and some meals featuring the patties were priced at USD $30 to $50, far out of range for most consumers.

Further, she says, ground meat patties “are not the way we eat beef” in Korea. And when Beyond Meat cutlets and nuggets were tasted in a recent trial, “all were reviewed as a bad smell in cooking and a need to cover up with sauces,” Yang said.

Meanwhile, Yuri Barutkin, USMEF’s representative in Eastern Europe and Russia, says a lot of Europeans are finding reasons of personal health, animal welfare, food fashion and novelty to dine with meat substitutes. Plus some governments are pushing meatless diets, and some restaurants add them to menus when it can mean a premium price, he says.

“Europe is seen by many as a trends setter in food standards and food patterns,” he says. Generally, “Europe has embraced the alternative meats."

“But Europe is very different from one part to another,” Barutkin says. The European Union’s 28 nations includes countless nationalities, he says, “and there are 100 nationalities in Russia alone.” In many areas, income supports limited eating of traditional meat, let alone pricier meat alternatives, and environmental sustainability is not high in their meat selection criteria, he points out.

On the global scale, the emergence of meat alternatives is only beginning, said Glynn Tonsor, a Kansas State University livestock economist who joined the USMEF discussion, and “more choices in the ground meat space” are on the way.

Pricing remains a market barrier, Tonsor said, noting market surveys listing plant-based burgers at $7.50 to $12 in the U.S. But in the U.S. and abroad, the products will gain market appeal if and when prices come down, Tonsor expects.

Also, he says, market growth for the new alternatives doesn’t mean less success for livestock producers and the conventional meat market, or vice versa. 

“It is certainly possible that we can have a growing protein pie in the world, (and) I believe that is occurring," Tonsor said. "So one can have smaller share of that protein pie and still have a bigger industry than you had five years ago.”

Meanwhile, Allen Gray, a Purdue University agricultural economist also speaking at the conference, pointed to one popular analysis that projects vegan meat alternatives will capture 10% of the global meat supply by 2025 and 25% by 2040, while conventional meat will slide from 90% to 40% over the same period and cultured meat claims 35% of the 2040 market.

Gray thinks those projections exaggerate the likely market growth for alternatives; the estimates also assumed a 3% annual drop in consumption of traditional meat. He expects markets for traditional meat will instead continue to grow at 3% to 5% in the coming decades, “though that leaves room for the alternative meats market to grow as well.”

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