THE ‘HYPE CYCLE’: A fad or the future? With plant-based meat, there’s plenty to be bullish about
The next hurdle is to create next-gen alt-protein technologies and products so compelling (delicious, nutritious, with clean labels, and sustainable profit margins) that they naturally make intensive animal agriculture obsolete. That’s the unique promise of alt protein, and it seems more certain than ever.
EBEN BAYER: Some people seem overly eager to declare the meatless meat industry dead. The promise of so-called alt protein (admittedly not a very catchy term) was to create healthier alternatives to animal meat so indistinguishably delicious from the real thing that they eventually overtook the entire industry. That has yet to become a reality, which should be no surprise given how enormous and entrenched the animal-meat industry is. But as flagship companies like Beyond Meat show weakening market share, cratering stock prices, and bonds screaming “bankruptcy,” the understandable reflex is to question whether the innovative alternatives entering the market will, ultimately, be just a flash in the pan.
The reality is that the alt-protein industry is experiencing what every new technology does: the hype cycle. And it predicts that the best is yet to come. In other words, in an era of rapid technological advancements and mass markets, new innovations often emerge as a passing craze, while enduring innovations withstand challenges and provide meaningful uses and genuine value.
The Gartner Hype Cycle is a framework that describes the regular, predictable progression of new technologies from initial excitement to widespread adoption. This hype cycle separates the innovations that will last from the ones that won’t, and I’m convinced alt protein is firmly in the former category…
It may seem strange to think of animal-free meat going through the same hype cycle as other modern technologies, but in many ways, the bill fits. Pureed vegetable patties have been around for quite some time. Today’s crop of alt-protein companies rely on entirely new methods—precisely orchestrating natural or chemical processes through precision fermentation or genetic engineering—to arrive at products that aren’t “veggie patties.” This new class of food serves a demand as old as life itself. The companies leading the charge are largely research-based, modeled much like classic tech startups, employing scientists and engineers alongside their chefs. It should be no surprise that alternative meats go through the same stages of growth and maturity—and slowdowns—that other technologies do…
Looking beyond stock prices, the trend for alt protein remains one of increased approval, even if the rate of that excitement has slowed. Plant-based meat retail sales have grown by 74% over the past three years, 60% of food-service operators now consider it a long-term trend, and four times as many chefs and restaurant owners plan to add more meatless options to their menus this year rather than reduce them. The global plant-based meat market is expected to reach $35.4 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.8%.
As the alt-protein market continues to grow, companies will prioritize improved taste while offering even better nutrition and greater sustainability than before. The appeal begins to extend past the narrow vegan and vegetarian segments to a much broader range of consumers. Like the smartphone, alt protein will become increasingly more relevant as innovations deliver better results and necessity demands greater adoption.
Indeed, the doom and gloom narratives skip over the necessity factor. Alt meat belongs to a universe of technologies that aim to correct what have become unsustainable aspects of human civilization. Its humanitarian value is inherent in the problem it seeks to solve. Animal agriculture already uses more land than any other industry, and finding better ways of producing food isn’t just about creating hype, it’s a key part of ensuring that we leave a thriving planet and society to future generations without sacrifice to the other crucial value: taste. That’s a lot to put on the packaging.
Still, the challenges faced by the first wave of companies are a necessary part of the process. The next hurdle is to create next-gen alt-protein technologies and products so compelling—delicious, nutritious, with clean labels, and sustainable profit margins—that they naturally make intensive animal agriculture obsolete. That’s the unique promise of alt protein, and it seems more certain than ever. SOURCE…