Although flexitarians eat both meat and plant-based products, they prefer to avoid animal-derived meat for health, environmental concerns, or personal convictions. Meatless Mondays are one example of this avoidance of meat. A new generation of plant-based meat products (e.g., Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat) is seizing upon this growing consumer demographic of plant-forward eaters.
But there is another product category—meat hybrids—that can benefit flexitarian diets. Meat hybrids combine meat and plant-based ingredients to improve the nutritional profile of the product while reducing greenhouse gases. At a session on “Meat Hybrids and Analogs: Product, Research, and Culinary Trends” on Tuesday afternoon, several speakers addressed the market opportunities and technical challenges associated with meat hybrid products.
Global meat products represent an $844 billion market, noted Paulson Joseph with Kalsec. Meat substitutes are only $36 billion of that market, but they are growing at 6% (CAGR) compared to 3% CAGR for traditional meat products. Joseph believes that meat hybrids could capture 10% to 15% of the global meat market.
Meat hybrids come in various product formats, including grounds, shreds, crumbles, patties, nuggets, sausages, meatballs, and ready meals, stated Joseph. Examples of products on store shelves include Applegate Organics The Great Organic Blend Burger and Sainsbury's Love Meat & Veg 6 Chicken Sausages with Turmeric, Red Peppers & Butternut Squash.
Two speakers—Sandra Ebert and Eva Herz—from the University of Hohenheim explained their research in developing dry cured sausages with pea protein and vegan raw fermented sausages. Consumer acceptance may be a challenge due to taste and texture differences with traditional sausages. In the case of the vegan sausage, chewing of the product produced a crumbly product. Incorporating gluten, which acts as a binder, in the vegan product may resolve this mouthfeel issue.
Steve Solomon with The Mushroom Council discussed The Blend—a burger program developed by the council in partnership with chain restaurant chefs who are part of the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menus Collaborative. The blended burger—containing about 70% beef and 30% diced mushrooms—has less calories, protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol than a traditional burger. And the mushrooms increase the amount of B and D vitamins, selenium, potassium, and antioxidants glutathione and ergothioneine. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mushrooms are the most sustainably grown crop in the United States, noted Solomon.
In taste tests against traditional and plant-based burgers, the blended burger was the top performer for flavor, juiciness, texture, mouthfeel and appearance. Colleges and universities were the first adopters of the blended burger. Corporate dining enthusiasts include Google, Pinterest, and Raymond James while sports organizations—Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Chiefs, and U.S. Olympic Committee—serve up the blended burger. Fast-food chain Sonic Drive-In ran a successful limited time offer of the blended burger last year.
If every away-from-home burger—about 12 billion—were a blended burger, we could cut 1 trillion calories from the American diet, declared Solomon.