Why blended meat is gaining traction globally


Blended meat is often a far healthier option for consumers. Harvest B's offerings for instance have 50% less fat and cholesterol than conventional meat. — Harvest B

Let's play a game of truth and dare.

The global population – especially in developed countries – eats too much meat. Truth.

In fact, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, global meat consumption will increase by 14% in 2030. And Asia is set to account for 52% of those figures in 2030.

Now dare we do something about it?

That’s the path producers in the alternative protein and cultivated meat space are trying to carve in a battle to combat the severe climate decline that is in progress at this very moment – a direct consequence of sky-high high meat consumption rates.

But in doing so, they all face an uphill battle.

With alternative proteins (plant-based products designed to mimic meat products) – cost, taste and texture have proved inhibitive in terms of trying to gain a new audience while cultivated meat (meat that is replicated in labs) is still very, very nascent (it has only been given regulatory approval in a few countries in the world, like the United States and Singapore) and isn’t quite ready to feed all the hungry meat-eaters in the world just yet.

So, what’s the next best thing? It turns out there is a solution that combines the best of both worlds: Blended meat.

What is blended meat?

Blended meats are foods that combine real animal meat components (often fat and protein) with plant-based components like peas, chickpeas and even vegetables like broccoli which are turned into vegetable compounds.

Blended meats offer a degree of compromise that involves a future that incorporates less meat, not the more dire prospect of going entirely meatless. — ROMAN ODINTSOV/PexelsBlended meats offer a degree of compromise that involves a future that incorporates less meat, not the more dire prospect of going entirely meatless. — ROMAN ODINTSOV/Pexels

Both the meat and plant entities are then mushed together to form a singularly unique product. This can take the form of minced meat, burger patties, sausages, nuggets and so much more.

“Blended meat products feature a combination of plant-based meat and conventional animal protein. The percentages of plant and animal ingredients can vary widely from a 50/50 split to single digits depending on a producer’s target audience,” says Mirte Gosker, the managing director of the Good Food Institute (GFI) Asia Pacific, Asia’s leading alternative protein think tank.

Blended meat is also seen as an increasingly viable option in South-East Asia where a recent GFI survey found that most South-East Asians do not intend to reduce their meat consumption and a quarter of those surveyed actually wanted to increase consumption!

When it came to blended meat though, 93% of those surveyed in the region (88% in Malaysia) showed a willingness to try it, which indicates that in this part of Asia, bringing together the two worlds is a route that food producers should be gunning for.

A growing playing field

To be clear, blended meat isn’t exactly new.

Gosker says if more restaurants and large food producers adopt blended meat in place of real meat, the environmental impact will be phenomenal. — GFIGosker says if more restaurants and large food producers adopt blended meat in place of real meat, the environmental impact will be phenomenal. — GFI

This particular category has existed for quite awhile now but, in the past, meat was blended with meat extenders which were typically vegetable proteins of some sort – often to lower the overall product cost.

Many of the processed foods you find in the market now, like chicken nuggets, for example, are considered blended meats.

The key difference in those old-school variants and these new-age blended meats is the quality of the plant-based components added as well as the focus on attaining the taste and texture that best mimics the real deal.

“In the first generation, blended meats just offered protein. They didn’t really offer texture. So they didn’t have to stand out in the experience of the meal.

“They were blended into these meat products which included many additives, but they were a cheap source of protein, which is the reason why they were used.

“What we’re doing is we’re going on to the second and the third generation of blended meats.

“We’re saying, ‘Well, what if we can create a textural experience that’s quite similar to meat?’” says Kristi Riordan, CEO of Harvest B, an Australian start-up that is producing a range of blended meats.

Like Riordan, many food producers have cottoned on to this gap in the market.

American brand Paul’s Table for instance was developed by Beyond Meat’s first R&D engineer and crafts blended meat that is 90% plant-based.

Another American brand called 50/50 Foods Inc has successfully blended 50% beef with 50% vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions and garlic and transformed this concoction into a burger patty.

Former Shark Tank entrant Phil’s Finest (formerly known as Misfit Foods) was once in the juice business but has now pivoted to making a line of chicken sausages enhanced with everything from sweet potatoes to kale and apples.

In the United States, even large food producers like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms have gotten in on the game.

Perdue Farms’ range of blended chicken meat for instance features 50% chicken alongside a vegetable compound made up of cauliflower and chickpeas.

In Australia, Riordan’s start-up is pioneering a range of blended meat, like slow-cooked diced lamb, slow-cooked diced beef and gourmet beef patties, with a blend that is typically 30% plant-based (soy and wheat) and 70% meat.

Food producers have successfully incorporated all sorts of vegetables into blended meat, from broccoli to carrots and cauliflower. — POLINA TANKILEVITCH/PexelsFood producers have successfully incorporated all sorts of vegetables into blended meat, from broccoli to carrots and cauliflower. — POLINA TANKILEVITCH/Pexels

The company uses an extrusion process – basically the same process used to make pasta – to bind the plant-based components and meat together.

This is what makes it more wholesome than many other blended meats or even plant-based proteins which typically incorporate other binders, starches and meat extenders in their configuration.

“Yeah, so the first thing I would say is that we don’t actually use a binder. So when you look at the plant-based meat category as a whole, you’ll typically see a methylcellulose (a compound derived from cellulose) that will be the binding agent that is used to act as the glue in plant-based meats or a variety of different products that are out in the market.

“And that’s one of the areas that has been criticised by public conversation around whether that’s something that people want to have in their diets,” Riordan says.

“So we don’t use a binding agent – we actually create the textures in our proteins through our extrusion cooking process.

“What we’ve done is looked at extrusion as a really affordable and highly effective food technology that had not had enough investment in innovation for this particular application in the food system.

“So when we use extrusion, we’re actually creating the textural experience naturally through the cooking process.

“Sometimes we use a single protein, sometimes we actually blend multi-proteins. We have found by being able to combine different types of proteins, we can create really special textures just through that blending process of multi-proteins,” explains Riordan.

Why blended meat?

Blended meat is the hybrid love child of meat and plant-based alternative proteins. It offers a degree of compromise that is largely hinged on the fact that it delivers a far planet-friendlier option than conventional meat.

“The environmental impacts of blended products will depend heavily on the formulation used (e.g. 50% plant-based vs 20% vs 80%); but compared to conventional animal meat, plant-based meat reduces greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and air pollution by up to 98%, 87% and 99%, respectively.

Riordan says Harvest B has been able to achieve price parity in Australia with its range of beef and lamb offerings that are made up of 30% plant protein compounds. — Harvest BRiordan says Harvest B has been able to achieve price parity in Australia with its range of beef and lamb offerings that are made up of 30% plant protein compounds. — Harvest B

“As an example of how dramatic such an impact could be, analysis has shown that if two of the largest fast food chains in the world changed their beef patties into 50/50 blends with plant-based meat, demand for global agricultural land would reduce by 8.5 million hectares, an area about 20 times the size of Taman Negara,” says Gosker.

There are also the health attributes of blended meat, which simply cannot be discounted.

Blended meat has the potential – like fortified cereal – to fortify meats with essential nutrients and fibre that is lacking in regular meat.

Because of the plant protein insertion, blended meats also invariably have lower fat and cholesterol levels than their original counterparts.

Riordan, for example, says that Harvest B’s blended lamb and beef options have 50% less cholesterol and 50% less fat than conventional meat.

Blended meat also spreads a less harsh message to meat-eaters around the world. It is not saying the future is meat-less, it is simply espousing the idea of eating less meat.

By showcasing a range of products that combine a little bit of both worlds, blended meats also combat the phenomenon of loss aversion, which is when a potential loss is perceived as psychologically more severe than an equivalent gain.

More and more producers are getting into the blended meat market segment, like American brand Phil's Finest which produces a line of chicken sausages enhanced with kale, carrots and other vegetables. — Phil's Finest/InstagramMore and more producers are getting into the blended meat market segment, like American brand Phil's Finest which produces a line of chicken sausages enhanced with kale, carrots and other vegetables. — Phil's Finest/Instagram

And then there is the taste and texture of blended meat, which is one of its strengths by a mile.

If you love meat, you’ll instantly be able to deduce when something isn’t quite right.

But if it is nearly there texturally and an almost 100% simulation of real meat taste-wise, chances are high you’ll reach for it.

On one condition. The price has to be right.

The future of blended meat

In the end, price is king in most consumer decisions and the choice of whether to opt for blended meat or real meat in the future will come down to price parity – and good marketing.

As an example, data from GFI Asia shows that on average, plant-based meat is now priced 35% more than conventional counterparts.

The recent study that GFI conducted also showed that consumers are most interested in plant-based meat if it is priced the same or lower than real meat, with interest dropping to 35% if it is priced at 50% more than regular variants.

So can blended meat achieve this?

In the case of Harvest B, the brand already has.

“Blended meat can offer two really important things that are critical for improving the sustainability of our food system.

“No.1, better health. And No.2, more affordability. I think those are things that will change behaviour.

“If we can find protein solutions that are better for us and protein solutions that are more affordable for us, I think sustainability will follow.

“Our Harvest B products are the same price and actually a little cheaper than meat.

Consumers will only opt to buy blended meat if it is priced the same or less than traditional meat products. —  EDUARDO SOARES/PexelsConsumers will only opt to buy blended meat if it is priced the same or less than traditional meat products. — EDUARDO SOARES/Pexels

“In the US, blended meat has achieved price parity as well.

“I think in the long run, my belief is that we develop really great technologies and then we figure out how to localise those technologies so that we can have the most affordable supply chain possible to be more affordable with plant proteins than animal protein.

“If we do our job well in creating the right kind of technologies and the right supply chain, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to be a more affordable solution in the future,” says Riordan.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In Living

How squeezable plastic containers are getting more sustainable in the US
Bouncing back: Ways to find your footing after a burnout
Kids need clear rules – and so do citizens
War machine and the health of the planet
Testing times for Malaysia's elephants
Ex-etiquette: Setting boundaries for your partner and their former spouse
Malaysian students win top prizes at Etoiles De France dance competition in Paris
Ask the Plant Doctor! How to care for the bucida variegata tree
Ramen in Japan is more than just noodles, it's a tourist attraction and experience
Finding healing through gardening

Others Also Read