The meat processing industry has found itself with some formidable competition by way of the humble vegetarian. Well, vegetarians and what you might consider vegetarian-supportive allies.
According to USA Today, 43 million U.S. consumers seek out plant-based alternatives to traditional foods on a regular basis, but only 14% of them are vegan or vegetarian, leaving lots of Americans looking to switch up their traditional diets by ditching some of the meat and cheese in their lives.
The shift in protein sources has meant changes for an industry that once exclusively relied on livestock. Reuters recently reported that “big ag” was making a big bet on the lowly pea – an increasingly popular choice for meat substitutes due to its high protein content and gluten-free nature.
This small industry is reportedly soaring as peas are used in everything from vegan chicken alternatives to supplementing soy in things like cereals, protein shakes, and bars. Companies like Cargill and even meat industry stalwarts like Tyson are getting in on the game, making big investments in meat alternative ingredients and, in Tyson’s case, buying stakes in meatless meat companies. And by “stake,” I mean equity.
But they’re not the only ones with a semi-meatless future in mind. This fact may surprise you, but even KFC has announced that it’s exploring options for meat-alternative products in its restaurants – specifically a vegetarian equivalent to its chicken. Tests in the UK and Ireland will dictate whether this option comes to U.S. stores. KFC, owned by Yum! Brands, says its strategy is actually less of an effort to appeal to plant-based eaters, and more to reduce the calorie content on some segments of the menu.