Viral campaigns, artificial intelligence, big data… It wouldn’t sound like that, but food marketing is constantly being refined. So much so that hot dogs, chips and burgers, for example, have become the ultimate in high tech food. The duty offers you a series of articles that bear witness to this. Enough to liven up the discussion during your next dinner cocktail.

It all started with a burger. Then it was the turn of seafood. This week, it’s chicken. But the conquest by vegetable protein producers of the real meat market will not stop there. The ultimate goal: bacon.

In the American business world, there is a certain attitude to lead to success which is summed up in the phrase “pretend until it is true” (“ fake it until you make it “). In the high protein junk food sector, this maxim is being reversed: more and more companies dream of being able to replace the meat in the beef or chicken patties in their sandwiches with plant-based substitutes. that will perfectly simulate the behavior of real meat.

Sirloin steaks and sirloin steaks

The American company Beyond Meat, one of the pioneers of modern vegetable protein, announced earlier this week that it had taken an important step in the development of food substitutes for animal flesh: chicken fillets. These contain absolutely no trace of chicken. Yet, they have the shape and texture of chicken. They behave during cooking exactly like real chicken fillets. And they actually taste the same as chicken.

Four hundred more or less fast food chains in the United States have started offering Beyond Meat fillets in the last few days. There is no doubt that they will soon be sold elsewhere in the world: their fake beef has been sold for a few years now in 80 countries, including Canada.

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In fact, Canadian consumers wondering what fake chicken fillets can look like need only visit the frozen section of the nearest grocery store. They can also stop by a branch of the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food chain. Lightlife, a subsidiary of Ontario food giant Maple Leaf since 2017, has been selling its own vegetable-protein chicken fillets there since last summer.

Potential that makes you salivate

Like Beyond Meat, Lightlife is taking advantage of the boom in demand for plant proteins to establish itself in the North American food sector. Its turnover increased by 30% in 2020. The company also sells vegetarian hamburger patties to both restaurateurs and grocers.

This diversification is seen as the best way to capture a significant share of the “veggie meat” market, which was valued last year at $ 1 billion. It is its anticipated growth, above all, that makes salivating: the consulting firm Kearney calculates that it could sell for 500 billion dollars of products derived from plant proteins annually, as the world population increases and its population increases. lifestyle is similar to that of western countries.

Because meat production is extremely energy intensive and polluting. According to the UN, 15% of human-made GHG emissions are caused by factory farming. In a context where most countries in the world expect to become carbon neutral within 30 years, many people are wondering how we can increase the production of animal proteins to meet this growing demand while reducing the resulting pollution.

Plant-based substitutes are, according to many, the solution. In any case, that’s how Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat, positions his company. For the 49-year-old businessman, the ultimate goal is to produce fake meats so convincing that they will trick the taste buds of even the most serious meat lovers.

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Imitating, a false good idea?

For Beyond Meat, confided the CEO of the company in interview with the Wall Street Journal, the holy grail is neither beef nor chicken, but pork. Or at the very least, the bacon. The day it will be possible to recreate the texture, the flavor and, above all, the sizzle of a very fatty bacon wiggling over the flames of a barbecue, he will be able to say: mission accomplished.

Beyond Meat could have positioned itself as something new in the food industry. This idea of ​​trying to steal market share from meat may be wrong.

It is not an approach that everyone agrees on. Sylvain Charlebois, professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and expert in the food industry, believes that Beyond Meat limits its chances of success by confining itself to the replacement market. “Beyond Meat could have positioned itself as something new in the food industry. This idea of ​​trying to steal market share from meat may be a mistake, ”he believes.

After all, when you imitate something, you can hardly surpass it. How can we permanently change the eating habits of consumers by offering them the same foods, whether they come from plant sources rather than animals? If Beyond Meat can perfectly recreate the behavior of a slice of bacon in the pan, will it manage to impose its chickpea protein on the plate of North Americans?

This is a good question. A $ 500 billion question.

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