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THE TIME IS RIPE: As grocery prices rise, alt-meat takes a bigger bite of Big Meat’s burger

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A myriad of pandemic pressures upended the pricing of traditional meat, making alt-meat a more competitive choice at the grocery store, far more quickly than any expert could have predicted.

LAURA RELLEY: Plant-based meat was having a moment before the pandemic, nabbing celebrity investors, record-setting IPOs, “Whopper” fast-food deals and high-end chefs who transformed pea protein and soy into savory, expectation-defying deliciousness.

Then the pandemic hit, restaurants closed and many Americans were stuck at home battling anxiety and sourdough starters. Industry experts wondered if enthusiasm for this new food category would falter and sales flag — would plant-based meat turn out to be a fad rather than a movement? It fleetingly looked grim: last April plant-based protein shipments to restaurants fell 27 percent, according to market research firm NPD Group…

However, it appears that those worries were ill-founded. “Alt-meat” has emerged stronger than ever, much of it because of one thing: Price. A myriad of pandemic pressures upended the pricing formulas for both traditional meat and plant-based proteins, making alt-meat a more competitive choice at the grocery store, far more quickly than any expert could have predicted…

Supply-chain problems and virus outbreaks in meat-processing plants have led to meat price increases that far outstrip those of groceries overall. Meanwhile, it’s getting easier and less expensive for companies to create a lot more of these plant-based proteins, bringing down the costs of the soy and pea-protein meats, dairy and eggs much faster than anticipated.

A pound of ground Beyond Meat is down to about $5.70. Beef prices, up 3.3 percent from a year ago, mean ground beef can cost between $4.10 and $6, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Impossible Foods has cut its restaurant prices twice in the past year, and in February, the company cut retail prices by 20 percent, bringing the price of two quarter-pound patties down to $5.49.

“We plan to keep lowering prices as we achieve new production records and economies of scale and ultimately undercut the price of ground beef from cows,” said Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside in an email.

Even plant-based egg prices are coming down. Matt Riley, senior vice president of global partnerships at Eat Just, said the company took its mung-bean-based Just Egg from $7.99 to $5.99 in March 2020 and then down to $3.99 in January of this year — about the price of many pasture-raised eggs at the farmers market.

These price reductions, against a backdrop of surging grocery prices overall, have pushed the skeptics and the curious over the edge: They’re trying it… even as many restaurants were reduced to takeout, delivery and limited indoor dining, plant-based proteins on restaurant menus jumped by 118 percent in 2020, according to Datassential, a food market research company. SOURCE…

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