Trying to capture the fast-moving plant- and cell-based meat industry is something akin to taking a picture with an old Polaroid instant film camera. It’s only a very quick, momentary snapshot in time while the subject continues to change.

Yet this dynamic market picture is worth examining. SPINS data released by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute (GFI) show US retail sales of plant-based foods grew by double digits in 2020, growing 27% and bringing the total plant-based market value to $7 billion. Survey data also show that 57% of households now purchase plant-based foods, up from 53% in 2019.

Association officials say the value of plant-based meat, the second-largest plant-based category, hit $1.4 billion in 2020, with sales growing 45%, up from $962 million in 2019. They add that the plant-based meat category grew twice as fast as conventional meat and now accounts for 2.7% of retail packaged meat sales. Eighteen percent of US households now purchase plant-based meat, up from 14% in 2019.

More detailed data suggest 63% of shoppers are high-repeat customers. Refrigerated plant-based meat sales grew 75% in 2020, with products increasingly shelved adjacent to conventional meat. This placement in the meat section helped propel growth in the segment, with refrigerated plant-based meat sales increasing more than twice as fast as frozen plant-based meat sales, which grew 30% in 2020 (10 times faster than in 2019).

For the record, GFI and PBFA commissioned data from SPINS and custom refined the data to reflect only plant-based products that directly replace animal-based products.

Looking ahead, consumer interest is only projected to continue. This particularly true for Millennials and Gen Zs, who choose these products for better health and because of their interest in sustainability and animal welfare, according to The NPD Group, Chicago.

“As consumers continue to prepare more meals in the home and younger generations cook more, plant-based foods and ingredients will be a part of their repertoire,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food industry analyst. “In addition to providing a variety of plant-based foods and ingredients, food manufacturers should also focus efforts on Millennials and Gen Zs since they will be driving the category’s growth. Their concerns for sustainability and animal welfare should also be taken into account when messaging to them.”

NPD says Gen Z and Millennial consumers’ deep-rooted values helped grow the while other consumers turned to comfort or more familiar foods. About one in five adults say they want more plant-based foods in their diets, and that number remained steady throughout 2020, according to NPD’s recent study, “The Future of Plant-based Snapshot: The Evolution of Plant-based Continues.”

Interest in plant-based dairy and meat alternatives by Gen Zs and Millennials extends beyond burgers and almond milk. These plant-based consumers look for various meat, poultry, or seafood analogues, flavor profiles, formats. For this reason, plant-based opportunities exist across frozen, shelf-stable, indulgent, and snack categories.

Manufacturers indeed are pursuing these opportunities across the broad and fast-growing plant-based meat, poultry and seafood sectors. Separately, there’s an equally strong undercurrent of activity involving companies committed to newer cell-based cultivated and/or “cultured” meats.

Meat & Greet
When it comes to mainstream plant-based red meat alternatives (burgers, dogs, etc.), many food companies used 2021 as an opportunity to either extend lines and/or launch improved reformulations.

Last year saw Impossible Foods, Redwood City, Calif., introduce Impossible Sausage in August, followed by Impossible Meatballs in November. In conjunction, officials noted that Walmart planned to create dedicated plant-based products sections within its freezercase.

Rival Beyond Meat Inc., El Segundo, Calif., also launched Beyond Breakfast Sausage, Beyond Sausage Hot Italian and Cookout Classic sausage. Meanwhile, it continued its rollout of Beyond Meatballs, which debuted earlier in September 2020. In other news, the company introduced a reformulated Beyond Burger (version 3.0) with better taste and nutritionals, the company said. It debuted last May in a two-pack, the brand’s first value four-pack (MSRP: $9.99) and a 1lb. Beyond Beef pack.

Sweet Earth Foods, Moss Landing, Calif., also eyed summertime grilling season for last May’s launch of Vegan Jumbo Hot Dogs and an improved Awesome Burger 2.0. Sweet Earth, a unit of Nestlé, said its new burger was the first to feature hemp and protein from fava beans (in addition to pea protein).

Greenleaf Foods SPC, part of Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods, was busy across several fronts. Last spring saw the Chicago company reformulate and introduce as many as nine Lightlife products (removing carrageenan, egg, maltodextrin). Meanwhile, it transitioned its Field Roast Signature Stadium Dog beyond foodservice and into retail. Last fall, Greenleaf introduced Field Roast Plant-Based Pepperoni in October and came back in November with a Field Roast Classic Style Sausage, Egg & Cheese Plant-Based Breakfast Sandwich in collaboration with the California-based food technology company Eat Just. Debuting at Whole Foods, the co-branded vegan breakfast sandwich combines Field Roast Plant-Based Breakfast Sausage Patty, JUST Egg Folded and Chao Creamery Creamy Original Cheese Slice.

Also targeting the breakfast occasion is Feel Foods Ltd. Last December, this Vancouver, B.C.-based company announced plans for new plant-based egg and bacon products this year. Also active now is San Francisco’s Hooray Foods, a plant-based bacon specialist. The company introduced its line to Whole Foods in late 2020. In December 2021, officials said Hooray received a $2.7 million seed fund extension to further scale up production and launch an improved formulation this year.

Another company targeting breakfast is Nature’s Fynd. Last year saw the Chicago firm launch Meatless Breakfast Patties based on a unique fungi protein (called “Fy”) and its own fermentation process. The company also announced plans for a new 200,000-sq.ft. production, R&D and innovation center on Chicago’s south side.

Last October saw five-year-old Barvecue open a 10,000-sq-ft production facility (the “Carolina Smokehouse”) in Cornelius, N.C. The company specializes in wood-smoked, barbecue-style plant-based meat portions. Last November, it added a Mexican-style Carnitas variety suited for tacos, fajitas, burritos or enchiladas, the company said.

How about shelf-stable meatless crumbles ready at a moment’s notice? MycoTechnology Inc. used the CES show this January to introduce Goodside Foods meatless crumbles based on mushroom fermentation and just three ingredients: a pea and rice protein blend fermented by shitake mushroom roots.

Tastes Like Chicken
Birds of a feather? Not surprisingly, industry leaders and new competitors alike hope to satisfy US consumer interest in chicken.

Last September saw Impossible Foods introduce Impossible Chicken Nuggets to foodservice and then retail—priced at $7.99 (MSRP) for a 20-piece, 13.5oz bag. Similarly, Beyond Meat introduced Beyond Meat Chicken Tenders (based on faba beans) at foodservice and then launched Beyond Chicken Tenders last October (SRP: $4.99) at select retailers nationwide.

And having made its own debut with OZO burgers, Planterra Foods (part of JBS), Lafayette, Colo., announced its own launch of OZO True Bite chicken cutlets and shreds. Officials say the offerings taste comparable to “real, whole muscle chicken” and will debut nationwide in early 2022 in the fresh meat aisle. Four varieties include Garlic & Herb Cutlet, Sea Salt & Pepper Cutlet, BBQ Shreds and Rotisserie-style Shreds.

For what it’s worth, Conagra Brands’ Gardein brand has been in the plant-based chicken market for some time. In 2019, Gardein introduced Chick'n Wings, Tenders and Nuggets, based on a proprietary blend of pea and wheat protein. On-trend varieties included Gochujang Style Chick'n Wings, Chipotle Georgia Style Chick'n Wings, Nashville Hot Chick'n Tenders and Crispy Golden Chick'n Nuggets.

Greenleaf Foods announced last October that it had become the exclusive provider of un-breaded, plant-based chicken provider for all Whole Foods Market prepared foods departments across North America. The company says its formulates with pea protein for its Lightlife un-breaded, whole-muscle, plant-based chicken in both tenders and fillets.

Another large company with designs on the US market is Chile’s NotCo. After bringing dairy-free milk to the United States in late 2020, the company came back December 2021 with four plant-based retail chicken products in Latin America: NotChickenNuggets, NotChickenBurger, NotChickenBurgerCrispy and the NotChickenFillet. Officials say the brand expects to distribute NotChicken next in the US and Canada. Officials say artificial intelligence guided R&D to include peas, chickpeas, bamboo and peaches in a patented formula.

Still more processors have entered the retail category with their sights on the most popular items: tenders, strips, nuggets, patties and wings.

Last April saw Sweet Earth Foods extend its Mindful Chik'n Strips line with three ready-to-eat seasoned items: Shredded (Carnitas style), Chipotle and Korean Style BBQ. That same month, Kellogg’s Company, Battle Creek, Mich., extended its Morningstar Farms lncogmeato line with Chik'n Tenders in Original and Sweet BBQ flavors.

NUGGS (led by Ben Pasternak) debuted in 2019 with its plant-based chicken nuggets. In July 2020, the New York City-based company rebranded as SIMULATE and hired former Danone R&D head Thierry Saint-Denis as chief technology officer. It since has launched Spicy NUGGS, Patties and Dino NUGGS (dinosaur shaped).

Daring, Los Angeles, launched in 2020 and says it employs a unique high-moisture extrusion process to combine heat with water and moisture to create the familiar pull-apart texture and mouthfeel of traditional chicken. The company uses soy protein concentrate and sunflower oil in formulations for four varieties of chicken cuts: Original, Lemon & Herb, Cajun and Original Breaded.

Last November saw New York City’s LIVEKINDLY Collective introduce LikeMeat plant-based Chick’n Wings in a family pack at Sprouts for $16.99. Additional pack sizes debuted this January at major retailers nationwide. Representing the West Coast was Nowadays, San Francisco, which launched its own chicken nuggets made from just seven ingredients: whole wheat flour, organic cold-pressed sunflower oil, plant-based fiber, and extracts of both yeast and mushroom.

Bringing an interesting wrinkle to the market is jack & annie’s, Boulder, Colo. The company’s line includes frozen crispy nuggets and Buffalo wings and what sets them apart is they’re not plant based. Instead, they made from jackfruit (used as first ingredient). Last September, Prepared Foods honored jack & annie’s with a 2020-21 Spirit of Innovation award (“Most Disruptive New Item”) and in December, the company said it closed a $23 million Series B funding round.

“Seas” The Day! 
GFI and SPINS data show plant-based seafood dollar sales grew 23% to $12 million in 2020, which is less than 1% of annual dollar sales in the overall plant-based meat and seafood category.

“This indicates a large white space compared to the conventional US seafood market [which is] worth tens of billions of dollars,” concludes GFI.

A closer look finds many companies fishing for those white space opportunities. At the end of last year, vertical ag and ingredient giant ABOVE FOOD Corp., Regina, Sask., purchased Atlantic Natural Foods LLC. The Nashville, N.C., company’s portfolio includes Loma Linda TUNO, a plant-based canned tuna alternative. Also in the news last December was Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch plant-based seafood. UBS Group AG, a Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company, named Gathered Foods’ Chris Kerr, co-founder and executive chair; and Chad Sarno, co-founder and chief culinary officer, as “UBS Global Visionaries.”

The past two years have been important for Gathered Foods, Austin, Texas, which opened a production facility, added new Good Catch frozen appetizers and entrees (bringing its line to nine items) and expanded distribution at both retail and foodservice. Last April also saw Gathered Foods secure $26.35 million in a B-2 bridge funding to fuel new growth.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats—and still more companies are pursuing this market. Last November saw plant-based seafood processor Sophie’s Kitchen Inc., New York City, sign a distribution deal with retail and foodservice seafood specialist Southwind Foods LLC, Carson, Calif.

Last September saw Modern Plant-Based Foods Inc., Vancouver, B.C., establish Modern Seafood as its new plant-based seafood division. The company already boasts a plant-based “crab cake” and announced immediate R&D behind a plant-based smoked salmon. In June 2021, cell-based seafood specialist Finless Foods, Emeryville, Calif., said it also entered the plant-based space with a raw tuna product (initially for foodservice). Company officials then hit the road to sample product at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, the Culinary Institute of America’s “Worlds of Flavor” event and the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Presidents Conference.

Still more retail news involves Jinka, Burlingame, Calif., which introduced three varieties of plant-based tuna last June. Back East, The Plant Based Seafood Company, Grimstead, Va., has expanded its popular Mind Blown brand (frozen) from Coconut Shrimp to include Dusted Scallops, Dusted Shrimp, Coastal Crab Cakes, and Lobsta’-n-Crab Cakes. This year finds the company transitioning into a third manufacturing facility and preparing a new par-fried plant-based Popcorn Shrimp offering.

Last but not least, 2021 ended with online retailer GTFO It's Vegan launching its own private label line of plant-based vegan tuna, salmon, sailfish, and calamari sashimi.

One interesting seafood category wrinkle involves Chicago food tech startup Aqua Cultured Foods, which plans to develop whole-muscle cut, sushi-quality filet, as well as shrimp and calamari—all based on novel fermentation technology.

Officials say Aqua Cultured’s product involves undisclosed “unprocessed organic matter” combined with a nutrient-rich solution to feed and nurture microbes. Then the company introduces a strain of fungi. Unlike plant-based seafood, Aqua products are not formulated with starches or protein isolates. And unlike cell cultured meat alternatives, Aqua’s fermentation methods also do not use any animal inputs, genetic altering or modification.

“Fermentation was largely unexplored for growing seafood alternatives, so we saw the opportunity to fill a white space in the market by creating a one-to-one replacement that’s realistic enough even for sashimi, nigiri and ceviche,” says Aqua CEO Anne Palermo. “By nailing the taste, texture and nutritionals, we’ve developed something of a holy grail in the entire alternative protein space.”

Step By Step, Cell by Cell
GFI notes that at the end of 2020, there were more than 70 publicly announced companies worldwide developing cultivated meat inputs, services, or end products. That number was up from a total of 55 in 2019. Moreover, those 70+ companies raised an estimated $336 million in 2020 funding, which equated to nearly six times that invested in 2019.

Speaking of companies, an initial group of five formed The Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation (AMPS Innovation) in the fall of 2019. The group (now totaling nine companies as of January 1st) sent a coordinated response to requests from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) an US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Both regulatory bodies are soliciting input about labeling of meat and poultry products made using cultured cells derived from animals. At the moment, cell-based companies and AMPS are advocating for such terms as “cultivated” and/or “cell-cultured” meat on labels.

Another milestone moment came last October when USDA awarded $10 million to Tufts University. During a five-year span, Tufts will help establish the “National Institute for Cellular Agriculture,” meant to serve as a cultivated protein research center of excellence. USDA awarded the grant as a part of a $146 million investment in sustainable agricultural research projects announced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.  

Tufts University Professor David Kaplan will lead the initiative and will be joined by investigators from Virginia Tech, Virginia State, University of California-Davis, MIT, and University of Massachusetts-Boston. Officials say the new institute will “develop outreach, extension, and education for the next generation of professionals” in cellular agriculture and lead research to help to expand the menu of climate-friendly protein options and improve food system resilience.

While those studies begin, more companies are pressing forward.

For starters, it’s been a busy at Eat Just Inc., San Francisco. Shortly after Singapore’s government approved consumption of cell-based meat in November 2020, Eat Just partnered with a restaurant, 1880, to serve GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken. Since then, Eat Just has invested in Singapore production capacity as well as increased sales there through at-home delivery (via foodpanda) and at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach. Last May, Eat Just announced a $170 million fundraise and formation of GOOD Meat as a stand-alone subsidiary. Last September brought an additional $97 million in new funding.

Cell-based seafood specialist BlueNalu, San Diego, expanded in June 2020 to a 38,000-sq.-ft. pilot production facility. The following month, it announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU)—to assess market development opportunities—with South Korea’s Pulmuone Co. Ltd. Last year saw BlueNalu ink similar MOU deals with global seafood producer Thai Union, Thailand; Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation; and Nomad Foods, a leading European frozen food company. It finally closed last year by promoting Lauran Madden, PhD., to chief technology officer.

Last year also was important one for UPSIDE Foods. The Berkeley, Calif., company started in 2015 as Memphis Meats and last year completed its first cultured chicken product. In May 2021, the company announced its name change to UPSIDE.

"Our team introduced the world to cultured meat, and the evolution to UPSIDE Foods communicates our passion and potential to make our favorite foods healthier for the planet," said Uma Valeti, CEO and founder. "Our new name showcases the work we are doing to make eating meat a force for good.”

UPSIDE ended 2021 with more big news. In November it opened its Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center (EPIC), a 53,000-sq.-ft. campus located in Emeryville, Calif. It is designed to produce any species of meat, poultry, and seafood—in both ground and whole cut formats—directly from animal cells. Officials say the facility can produce over 50,000 pounds of finished product, with a future capacity of more than 400,000 pounds per year.

UPSIDE Foods then came back in December to say it has developed a cell feed (also known as "media") that is completely animal component free (ACF). In order to grow, the cells require a combination of nutrients that they would otherwise get inside an animal's body, known as cell feed. Historically, animal components like fetal bovine serum (FBS) and animal proteins have been a key ingredient in cell feed because they offer a rich and complete source of nutrients that help the cells grow.

"Cell feed is among the biggest drivers of cost and environmental footprint for the cultivated meat industry, and optimizing it is key to maximizing our positive impact,” said Valeti. “Our ultimate goal is to remove animals from our meat production process entirely."

Other AMPS Innovation members include Finless Foods; New Age Meats, a Berkeley, Calif., firm focused on pork that’s a hybrid of cultivated-cell and plant-based technologies; Orbillion, a San Francisco firm targeting a 2023 launch of cultured Wagyu beef; Fork & Goode Inc., New York City; Artemys Foods, San Leandro, Calif.; and Future Meat, Rehovot, Israel.

In December, Future Meat said it raised $347 million in Series B financing. The company also said it is producing cultivated chicken breast for just $7.70 per pound, or $1.70 per 110g chicken breast, which is down from under $18 per pound just six months ago. Future Meat says it opened Israel’s first cultivated meat production line in 2021 and is scouting several locations in the United States for a projected large scale production facility.

In other global news, MeaTech 3D, Ness Ziona, Israel, said in December that it succeeded in bioprinting a 3.67oz (104g) cultivated steak, primarily composed of cultivated real fat and muscle cells.