Consumers gain newfound interest in meat alternatives due to food shortages

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Will red meat return to the grocery shelves anytime soon? One distributor says not before Memorial Day

As the pandemic unfolded deep into the consumer world, it forced some meat processing plants to shut down. That, in turn, took a toll on the overall food supply, which then put consumers at a loss in finding things like their favorite burgers. 

As a result of all of that, plant-based processors are finding themselves in the enviable position of being the next best go-to.

Interest in plant-based meat increases

Plant-based food companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Tofurky have turned the production setting to high and started selling their meat alternatives at a discount to try and win over a new batch of consumers, hopefully for the long-haul.

Many producers are already reaping the benefits. FoodMarket reports that sales for Before the Butcher, a maker of plant-based burgers and sausages, have climbed over the past two weeks thanks in part to the shortage of traditional meat products. 

Jaime Athos, chief executive of plant-based producer Tofurky, told FoodMarket that his company’s sales had risen 40 percent in the last three months. One of his biggest retail customers recently placed an order for 30 percent more than his usual purchase, he said, pointing out that imitation deli slices and Italian sausage have proved particularly popular.

“This is a peak moment for trial potential among regular meat eaters,” Pat Brown, Impossible Foods’ chief executive, told FoodMarket.

If the plant-based processors can convert a meat-eater to a plant-based one, the odds are good that those consumers might stick around. One recent study ConsumerAffairs found showed that almost 60 percent of consumers who try plant-based food lean towards making that a permanent shift in their diet.

Where’s the beef?

Meat lovers may need to chill for a while because it doesn’t look like real meat is coming back to their grocer’s shelves anytime soon. The domestic meat industry has been turned upside down, thanks to the pandemic. 

The Department of Agriculture said beef, pork, and other red meat production was down 28 percent versus where it was a year ago, and things aren’t looking good. 

“Expect to enter Memorial weekend with little to no boxed beef,” one national food-service distributor told its customers, according to FoodMarket. “Business as usual is nowhere in sight.”

Naturally, the beef industry says carnivores shouldn’t be alarmed. Colin Woodall, chief executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told FoodMarket that any beef shortages are a temporary thing, and the data they’ve seen shows that beef remains the consumer’s top choice. “Beef demand, beef sales and overall beef satisfaction are up, proving that consumers continue to crave beef,” he said.

Empty shelves mean higher prices

If consumers can find their favorite red meat at a reasonable price, they should probably grab it because it’s not likely to last. Not only are the major grocery stores putting limits on meat purchases, but the price of beef keeps going up. 

Since the beginning of March, when COVID-19 kicked into high gear, wholesale ground beef prices have more than doubled to $4.68 a pound, according to the USDA. In the last 24 hours alone, the USDA reports that the price per 100 pounds went up $6.81.

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