Beyond Meat, the company that manufactures plant-based meat substitute products, continues to struggle for customers, as revealed by this week’s first quarter results.

Sales have continued to fall, down to $75.6m (€70.6m) for the quarter ending 31 March, compared with $92.2m (€86.2m) in the same period last year.

This represents eight quarters in a row where revenue has failed to match the corresponding previous quarter, though there is small comfort from the levels of losses reducing in the first quarter of 2024 to $54.4m (€50.8m) compared with a $59m (€55m) loss in the first quarter of 2023.

The problem for Beyond Meat is that despite a high profile and open hostility in many quarters to meat, their meat substitute product has failed to attract sufficient consumer demand so far to make it profitable.

Olympics

By way of example, with just weeks to go before the top athletes of the world gather in Paris for the Olympic Games, the organisers have declared that it is their ambition to reduce the volume of meat used at the event in favour of vegetable-based products.

While there are athletes that follow vegetarian and indeed vegan diets, they are in a minority and with protein a key element of the human diet and particularly for high-performing athletes, meat is a favoured food in this cohort of people.

Just as top athletes have individually tailored training regimes, they have a similar approach to diet.

It isn’t an area that many choose to divulge information about, but we can be certain that they won’t be relying on whatever is available on the canteen menu in the athlete’s village to provide their sustenance for the event.

Unfortunately, when it comes to tackling climate change, there is a tendency to focus on headline-grabbing activities, only to row back when it becomes clear they are impractical.

The rush and then delay to moving to all-electric cars is an example, as is the more recent case of the government in Scotland doing an about-turn on their climate targets.

The quest for perfection appears to overshadow the small incremental steps that could deliver meaningful change if not the perfection that is sought.

Pushback

While institutions such as the Olympic organisers can grab headlines with their less meat policy, in practice it will have negligible impact beyond perhaps irritating people that prefer to consume meat in their diet.

Beef and lamb consumption in Europe, North and South America plus Australia and New Zealand is at best stagnant if not reducing slightly.

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As well as manufacturers of meat substitute products struggling, there is growing hostility to lab-based production of product representing the characteristics of meat.

In Florida this week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed off legislation banning the sale of laboratory-grown meat in the state.

Development of this product is also attracting high-profile investors, as well as plant-based meat substitutes, but, as of yet, there is little evidence of widespread consumer demand.

Comment

It is clear that development of meat substitute products has so far struggled to attract the consumer demand necessary to replace meat produced from livestock and birds.

However, it would be wrong to think that there is no threat to the sector, because so long as these businesses attract sufficient investment to keep going and their product development progresses, the reality is that, at some point in the future, a product may be developed that becomes a competitor for meat.

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How long that takes is anyone’s guess, but it is clear that for the immediate future the best source for consumers' meat experience remains beef, lamb, pork and poultry meat.

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