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Is the Beyond Meat product line nothing but a fad?

With more and more people switching to vegan or vegetarian eating options, the search for a ‘fake meat’ alternative quickly arose.

Restaurants like A&W made famous the Beyond Meat burger using plant-based protein for a meat flavour.

But is fake beef just a fad?

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According to Sylvain Charlebois, the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, the plant-based protein hasn’t yet had the impact some people thought it might have.

“The volume of sales is just not there,” Charlebois said. “Beyond Meat is doing OK in foodservice, but in retail it’s been really struggling, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they came into the market wanting to replace something people actually enjoy.”

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Charlebois argues it was A&W that first made the Beyond Meat product line popular. But the simple fact that it tastes different turns some people away.

“It was so successful that grocers felt the need to adopt the product,” he said. “The problem is that the flavour is not the same. And secondly, price. I mean, these products are really, really expensive.

“You’re basically trying to encourage people to replace something but pay more for it. So why would you switch?”

Many have cited environmental impacts as their reason for switching as there are growing concerns about the impact mass-producing cattle has on the climate. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Researchers say a plant-based diet will lower the carbon footprint mass-producing cattle leaves behind.

The IPCC said cattle are the No. 1 agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide.

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A look inside veggie burgers: What you need to know about soy-, plant-based burgers

Grant McLellan, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s association, believes there are environmentally friendly ways to raise cattle and give people the product they have always enjoyed, rather than fully committing to a plant-based diet.

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“Our product is the best product and it’s nature’s perfect protein in terms of what we consider the environmental benefits,” McLellan said. “People know what they like.”

And while the product line became popular in grocery stores and restaurants, in 2023 it appears people have moved on.

Last year, stock for the Beyond Meat company, founded in 2009, was trading at $66.0 per share. Today, it trades at $16.

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According to a recent survey conducted by Dalhousie University, 91 per cent of Canadians enjoy eating meat.

“Beyond Meat’s products were never meant to replace beef,” Charlebois said.

However, it is unlikely that Beyond Meat will disappear from shelves or menus any time soon.

“It’s important to actually be inclusive these days because there’s always one vegan or vegetarian that comes with a group of people to a restaurant,” Charlebois said.

Charlebois said the Beyond Meat line has led to more education on vegetable proteins, something more people are turning to.

He said the public is now shifting to chickpeas and lentils, which they can process at home with more health benefits than a Beyond Meat product.

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However, only time will tell if vegetable proteins are the future or just another fad.

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