Retail giants ramping up their investment in 'alternative' meat

Tesco, Nestle and Unilever among the rising number of retailers and manufacturers developing strategies for plant-based meat substitutes

Fast-food: Burger King has launched a meat-free Whopper
Fast-food: Burger King has launched a meat-free Whopper

Siddharth Cavale

Unilever, Tesco and Nestlé are among the best prepared to capitalise on the trend for plant-based meat substitutes, according to a report from an investor group managing $5 trillion (€4.5 trillion) in assets.

The report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) coalition showed 25 major retailers and manufacturers were developing strategies for sustainable protein products, recognising the risk of a strategy reliant on animal protein.

"Many have now begun a journey to diversify the protein products away from being predominantly animal-based, and towards low-carbon and less-resource intensive sources that are plant-based," said Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR, which includes institutions such as UBS and Schroders.

Unilever, Tesco and Nestlé were awarded top rankings for their work in understanding the impact and reducing risks associated with intensive animal agriculture, such as the emission of greenhouse gas.

They were also among the firms that had strong sustainable sourcing programmes and had targets to reduce emissions, said Aarti Ramachandran, FAIRR's head of research and engagement.

The report, titled 'Appetite for Disruption' found 87pc of retailers were increasing their own-brand plant-based products, while 64pc of the 25 firms that FAIRR engaged with had referred to "vegan" and "plant-based" in their annual reports.

The alternative protein market has taken off in part due to the inclusion of such products at global restaurant chains such as Burger King and McDonald's, as well as the blockbuster listing of Beyond Meat.

The alternative protein market is now valued at $19.5bn and is expected to capture 10pc of the global meat market, the report said, citing research from Barclays and JPMorgan. The market is expected to reach $100bn in value in 15 years.

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Amazon and Costco fared lower in the rankings and were described as "reactive" in part because of their limited work in sustainable sourcing of animal protein.

Protein portfolios

While manufacturers were expanding alternative protein portfolios, 56pc of those companies were responding to consumer demand rather than taking a more proactive approach.

"We can't tackle climate change... unless food companies more rapidly diversify their protein portfolios away from animal agriculture," Mr Coller said.

Only four companies had undertaken a risk assessment to stress test the resilience of their protein supply chain, FAIRR's report said.

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