Eating more plant-based meats could save the planet, you say? Nah, we’re good

Americans don’t seem too interested in giving up their beef.

Don’t feel bad if nobody wishes you a happy Earth Day today, it’s probably because everyone’s got a juicy cheeseburger jammed into their maw.

A man wearing a yellow shirt looks uncertain while weighing two options in each hand: a plant-based burger and a burning planet Earth.

In 2022, Boston Consulting Group issued a bombshell report that plant-based meat alternatives were, by far, the most impactful environmental investment humanity could make.

Investing $1T in transitioning people away from traditional meats would, according to BCG, cut emissions:

  • 3x more than $1T put toward green cement technology.
  • 7x more than investing the same amount in erecting more green buildings.
  • 11x more than sinking another trillion into zero-emission vehicles.

OK, sounds easy enough: Everyone swaps a few meat-free patties into their diet and maybe, just maybe, this precious 4.5B-year-old marble of ours will stand a chance against climate change.

Sounds great, except…

… Americans aren’t buying into that plan. To the contrary, plant-based meat continued a “precipitous decline,” per AgFunderNews.

  • US unit sales of plant-based meats and seafood were down 19% last year.
  • Only 15% of American households purchased plant-based proteins in 2023, down 4% YoY.
  • Fifty-one percent of US adults say they’ve never given them a try.

It’s no wonder, then, that the industry’s leading players are wilting:

  • Beyond Meat’s market cap, which hit $12B+ as recently as 2021, is now below $500m.
  • Impossible Foods’ internal stock prices dropped 89% between October 2021 and June 2023.

New players in the space won’t have it easy either — overall funding for plant-based startups dropped 28% last year.

So, what happens next?

Globally, the plant-based meat, seafood, egg, and dairy sector notched $29B in sales last year, despite the dive in US sales, so there’s hope abroad.

But getting Americans on board will be difficult: Per The Good Food Institute, most US consumers feel traditional meats are tastier, more affordable, higher in protein, more accessible, and easier to cook — a lot of barriers to overcome, none easy.

Perhaps looming economic ruin will force their hand? Researchers now estimate climate change will annually put a $38T dent in the global economy by 2049.

Oof. Happy Earth Day, we guess.

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